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Carrie Goldberg. Image: Electra Sinclair

Carrie Goldberg Is Fighting Revenge Porn One Court Case at a Time

Farnia Fekri

Farnia Fekri

“I am one of my clients.”

Carrie Goldberg. Image: Electra Sinclair

Humans of the Year

In 2013, when she was 35 years old, Brooklyn attorney Carrie Goldberg went through a bad breakup. After calling it quits, her ex became violently obsessive. She had to move. She had to ask someone to take care of her dog. She was constantly in court, trying to get orders of protection, and her life unravelled into chaos and fear. He even tried to blackmail her with images that he had of her—and she couldn't find a single lawyer to help.

"I couldn't find a lawyer who had any experience or knowledge or knew how to respond to that situation," Goldberg said. "Ultimately, when I finally got my final order of protection, I quit my job two months later and started the law firm."

The law firm is C. A. Goldberg PLLC, which she started to fight for victims of online harassment, sexual assault and blackmail. In 2014, when she opened the doors (of what was then a tiny office with just Goldberg staring at a phone), she did it with a $3,000 from her accrued vacation days. Three years later, her firm—and the colourful, magnetic attorney behind it—is at the forefront of a national conversation about revenge porn (sharing explicit footage of someone without their consent) and privacy laws.

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After wave of celebrity nudes being spread around, revenge porn has become a major topic of international discussion. Some people—Goldberg included—demand more responsibility from platforms like Facebook and Tumblr, while others argue that any curtailing law would border on infringement. Some websites (like Facebook and Twitter) have started addressing revenge porn with policies, while others stay silent.

But we're talking more about it because we "have more vocal and empowered victims now," Goldberg told me over the phone.

Before, when somebody's nudes were being sent around on the internet, or they were filmed without their consent, a lot of victims never thought of that as a legal issue," Goldberg explained. "Actually, sexual privacy violations are a legal issue. There's been more recognition that there are resources for victims and that they can fight back."

Sexual privacy and harassment online don't just follow the people whose nudes get leaked without their permission—people are filmed without their consent, their faces are photoshopped onto others, or they're impersonated. "Every single one of us is a moment away from meeting an individual that's hellbent on our downfall and will stop at nothing to guarantee it," Goldberg said. "It's not the victim's fault."

Right now, Goldberg has three cases against the New York City Department of Education. All three of her clients are low-income black students, she told me, who were sexually assaulted at school.

"When they reported it—they, the victim—were disciplined," she said. "I've got a number of similar cases like that all over the country." Sexual assault cases are mishandled every day, and that's why offenders often get away with it. When it comes to dealing with sexual privacy and consent on the internet, Goldberg said, there are different avenues to go after the perpetrator. "It always depends what the victim's desire is. If she's being targeted by a malicious ex, she might want him to be sent to jail, but a lot of times they're just like, 'I want him to stop. I want him to leave me alone.'"

Goldberg has done it all: restraining orders, cease and desist orders, criminal prosecution, lawsuits. In states like New York where there are no revenge porn laws—one of only 14 that don't—attorneys have to be...creative.

"Revenge porn very rarely happens in a vacuum. Usually it's within a pattern of other abusive conduct like harassing text messages, and impersonating somebody," she explained. "In those cases we can try to prosecute using other laws."

Goldberg isn't originally from New York; she grew up in Aberdeen, Washington, then moved east for college. Her first job once she graduated was as a case manager at Selfhelp Community Services in Manhattan, working with Nazi victims and holocaust survivors in getting restitution and reparations. "A 70-year-old who'd been experimented on suddenly qualified for a $2,000 cheque from Germany," she said. "I got really interested in the whole idea of putting dollar amounts to a person suffering."

Meanwhile, she was also going to Brooklyn Law School at night. After graduating in 2006, she ended up representing low-income tenants facing eviction, and learning how to litigate.

"Then I got hired by the Vera Institute of Justice, which is like a justice reform, legal think-tank," she said. Most of her clients were incapacitated people in medical, financial or social trouble. Goldberg had to make medical decisions for most of her client, often end-of-life decisions, and went up against hospitals that didn't respect the patient's decisions.

"We need to criminalize revenge porn across all 50 states and have a federal law, as well."

It was then that she broke up with her ex and realized she could help others struggling with sexual privacy. "I am one of my clients," she told me. The people who walk into her office are often "in the middle of this horrendous shitstorm" and being attacked.

To prevent their suffering in the first place, I asked her, what do you hope to see in the future to curtail acts of revenge porn? How do we make things better?

"We need to criminalize revenge porn across all 50 states and have a federal law, as well," she said. "Offenders are not worried about being sued, they're not worried about restraining orders necessarily or copyright infringement lawsuits, because offenders don't usually have money. What they are afraid of is criminal penalties."

The biggest call-to-action, Goldberg said, is that giant platforms—Google, Facebook, Twitter—need to stand up and be part of the solution. In the past few years, they've started to create revenge porn bans, but there's still a lack of liability because of the Communications Decency Act, which basically granted immunity to websites for the conduct of their users.

"That law went into effect in 1996. It was to protect this itty bitty darling little internet companies from being sued all the time for defamation," she said. "But now … you've got these super behemoth, powerful internet companies that are just untouchable in the law."

This would make companies take safety standards more seriously. They would staff entire departments to ensure user safety. "We need our internet companies to be liable for conduct that they know is happening on their platforms," Goldberg said.

The belief that the internet grants immunity to users—who can act in that virtual space and face no consequences—is a total mirage, Goldberg said. "If our naked pictures are being spread all over the internet, and they're what comes up when you type your name into a search engine, that affects us offline. How am I going to get a job? How am I going to get a new roommate?"

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