When Katelyn Bowden was told by an acquaintance on Facebook that intimate photos of her were posted on a widely available website, she thought that going to the police would help.
What the police told her, however, was that the only crime that had occurred was theft — her ex-boyfriend’s cellphone was stolen by an acquaintance who put the photos online.
"To the state of Ohio, a cellphone had more rights than me," Bowden said.
Ohio is one of just 12 states that doesn’t have laws criminalizing revenge porn, or private images posted without the owner’s consent. State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, hopes to change that with new legislation that would make posting revenge porn a first degree misdemeanor.
Schiavoni’s bill would both criminalize posting revenge porn and provide protections for the victims. Schiavoni said the bill would prevent universities and businesses from discriminating against victims of revenge porn.
Bowden said an estimated one in 25 Americans become victims of revenge porn at some point in their lives, with 90 percent of victims being female. Additionally, up to a quarter of the photos posted to revenge porn sites are of underage victims, Bowden said.
"Nobody is immune," She said. "As of right now, this practice is totally legal in Ohio."
According to the Journal of the American Academy for Psychiatry and Law, revenge porn doesn’t just damage someone’s reputation, but can also lead to long lasting health effects.
"Revenge pornography can result in lifelong mental health consequences for victims, damaged relationships, and social isolation," an article by the journal reads.
Bowden said she found a lack of support groups for victims, so she formed an advocacy and outreach group in 2017. Battling Against Demeaning and Abusive Selfie Sharing has over 600 members and has used copyright law to remove around 1500 private photos from revenge porn websites, Bowden said.
Currently, police departments can’t take much action against revenge porn sites and posters due to a lack of jurisdiction, Aurora Police Department Detective Bureau Supervisor Dan Kalk said.
Because online crimes have such a broad jurisdiction, Kalk said police departments often have "all kinds of hurdles to cross" when trying to prosecute a case. Kalk called the proposed legislation long overdue and said a statewide law would help to eliminate the problem of jurisdiction in revenge porn cases.
Schiavoni introduced a similar bill in 2016, but it wasn’t passed into law. Schiavoni said the newly-announced bill will clear up the jurisdictional issues that existed in the old one.
"Women are not objects," Bowden said. "They deserve more rights than a cellphone."
Bennett Leckrone is a reporter with the Columbus Dispatch.