Over 200 victims of image-based sexual abuse worldwide signed a letter supporting new legislation a Republican lawmaker introduced last month requiring age and consent verification of those depicted in sexually explicit or intimate materials online.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). who introduced the The Preventing Rampant Online Technological Exploitation and Criminal Trafficking Act, otherwise known as the PROTECT Act, comes as lawmakers and victims look for solutions to solve the child sexual abuse imagery epidemic that has grown exponentially since the late 1990s when the Internet started becoming a household necessity.
“Pornography sites need to do more to prevent the exploitation that is occurring on their platforms and allow individuals to remove images shared without their consent,” Lee said in a statement. “The PROTECT Act is a step in that direction.”
Lee’s statement included recent data from Utah law enforcement reporting a 600% increase in cases involving child pornography and sexual contact with minors since 2020.
While 46 states in the union have laws prohibiting producing and distributing nonconsensual sexual content, the federal law has remained helpless for victims.
Reports of child sexual abuse material have exponentially increased since the Internet, which has revolutionized the pornography industry and consequently created a breeding ground for child sexual abuse material.
According to the bill, reports of child sexual abuse material grew from 3,000 reports in 1998 to more than 1,000,000 7 in 2014 and 18,400,000 in 2018 in the United States.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which supports Sen. Lee’s bill, reports more than 29,300,000 reports of suspected child sex abuse material were recorded to its CyberTipline in 2021, marking the highest number it has received in a single year.
Survivors of such abuses to this day have no rights under federal law to have the material removed from the Internet. The proposed landmark legislation would be the first time federal law would protect victims of all ages who have been subject to image-based sexual abuse from websites monetizing and distributing their abuse, which usually garners millions of views for users to watch criminal content or consume private material.
Survivors of image-based sexual abuse online have often spent hundreds of hours attempting to get the content removed. Yet, despite their efforts, their attempts would fail, taking weeks or even months for the images to be completely taken down.
But by that time, the images had already been saved, shared, and re-uploaded to other platforms around the globe with little to zero accountability for such websites that have generated revenue off of the vulnerability of men, women, and children.
Uldouz Wallace, actress and survivor-leader, was one of the celebrities who had their privacy invaded in 2014 after a hacker spread personal photographs from various digital devices across the Internet in the iCloud Data Breach.
Uldouz told The Daily Wire her privacy was first compromised when a former partner recorded explicit images and video of her without her consent. And when it was further published online by a group of hackers responsible for the iCloud leak, the news devastated her.
“My heart dropped, and I was just mortified,” Uldouz said.
Uldouz said she isolated herself when she began facing harassment from her peers, backlash from her sponsors, and disassociation from potential employers. She stayed silent about her story for the last eight years.
After time spent recovering from the experience and researching how to shield future generations from becoming targets of online abuse, she used her pain to help solve the ongoing problem.
“Since nobody else is doing something, then I’m going to do something about it,” she said. “Because all of us are told not to talk about it. Don’t bring more attention to it. But the worst has already happened. I mean, how much worse could it get than what’s already happened to me?”
Uldouz testified on Capitol Hill last summer, urging members of Congress to create laws to criminalize the spreading of non-consensual images and videos online.
If passed, the law would allow victims to have their images removed and block re-uploads, including any altered or edited versions, while using the law to bring a civil action in district court to seek damages.
Websites that have allowed such uploads and fail to remove the reported content could also face penalties of up to $10,000 per day.
Among the survivors who signed the letter of support for Congress to pass the legislation also included celebrities Terry Crews, Whitney Cummings, Marisol Nichols, and Mexican activist Olimpia Coral Melo Cruz.