- May 25, 2021
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Sexual Assault & Trafficking
An anonymous young woman has recently filed a potentially ground-breaking lawsuit against the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet,” Reddit. In her claim, she states that her ex-boyfriend has repeatedly posted images and videos of her engaged in sexual acts, taken when she was 16 and without her knowledge or consent, on various subreddits that allegedly encourage such content. She says she repeatedly reported the content to Reddit, which often took several days to respond, allowed the ex-boyfriend to post the content multiple times before suspending his account, and then took no measures to prevent him from creating a new account from the same IP address.
The suit argues that Reddit’s rules against child pornography were only reluctantly introduced after a media scandal a decade ago, and that the platform has no interest in enforcing said rules.
The plaintiff also describes experimentally reporting the sexual images of herself as a copyright violation instead of child pornography, and receiving a significantly faster response. This would indicate that Reddit has the ability to respond to complaints in a timely manner but consciously chooses not to prioritize removing child pornography.
Hosting User-Generated Child Pornography Could Soon Be Officially Classified as Sex Trafficking
Historically, website owners have not been considered legally responsible for what users post on their platforms. However, this changed somewhat with the 2018 passage of SESTA/FOSTA, which created an exception for sex trafficking activities. In general, anyone who participates in a venture with the trafficker (Reddit’s behavior qualifies), benefits financially from the venture, and knows or should have known of the sex trafficking can be held liable for damages by the victim. Online platforms that host user-generated content were previously immune, but under SESTA/FOSTA, this is no longer true.
The anonymous woman’s case against Reddit depends upon establishing that hosting child pornography is a form of sex trafficking. In itself, creating, possessing, and distributing child pornography is an extremely serious offense, but it is not specifically covered in the language of SESTA/FOSTA, so it could be argued that online platform hosts are still immune to responsibility for it.
However, the woman’s complaint makes a strong argument that Reddit’s actions, or rather inaction, also qualify as sex trafficking. The key factor here is monetization. Sexually explicit images of minors are considered child pornography whether or not anyone is making a profit off of them. Sex trafficking, on the other hand, is specifically the monetary exploitation of a coerced or underage person in a sexual manner.
Reddit profits from its site traffic via advertising revenue, and according to the recent complaint, some of its most popular subreddits are specifically themed to child pornography. If Reddit is deliberately enabling the sharing of child pornography because it is financially motivated by the traffic this content generates, then SESTA/FOSTA could apply such that the victim could win a civil lawsuit against Reddit.
Civil Litigation Is a Powerful Tool for Sexual Exploitation Survivors Seeking Justice and Recovery
SESTA/FOSTA has opened the door for people who have been sexually exploited online to fight back against the companies that profit the most from their pain. By taking back these ill-gotten profits, survivors can recover on their own terms, without the financial burdens that would typically accompany their trauma. They can also help change the digital landscape to be safer and less accommodating of sexual exploitation.
By suing the platform that allegedly hosted the illegal images, not just the individual who posted them, this anonymous woman has taken the first steps toward stopping a form of online exploitation that has previously gone all but unchallenged. The Stoddard Firm is passionate about fighting for survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse, and we’re standing by to assist others interested in following her example
If you know of sexually explicit images of yourself that were posted to Reddit without your consent, particularly images that were captured while you were underage, give us a call to learn more about how we can help.