Any presidential plan to ‘take on tech’ in 2024 must address power and consent

The New York Cyber Abuse Task Force offers a framework for humane technology product design that tech product teams can use next year.

The New York Cyber Abuse Task Force is a coalition of legal and non-legal professionals, survivors, and technology workers to fight tech-facilitated gender-based violence in all its forms. Our findings consistently show that the most dangerous and persistent forms of tech abuse occur in the context of intimate partner violence and image-based abuse.

The New York Cyber Abuse Task Force offers a framework for humane technology product design

The first 2024 presidential debates start this week (I know, I’m sorry) and one question is certain: what is each candidate’s plan to take on tech?

In the past, when someone asked me what I thought of the impact of tech or AI on society, it was like being asked “what do you think of … hammers?” I, like many working in tech, found something like artificial intelligence to simply be a tool to augment human’s brain power rather than physical power. How it gets deployed depends entirely on a human’s will power. For example, hammers are great for assembling a new crib, but we’d never give a hammer to a baby. Construction workers can use hammers to build homes, but not to threaten their spouses. We expect industries and governments to apply the same common sense discretion to technology and intelligence tools. Especially when those tools have the speed and scale beyond any single swing of a hammer.

Now, thirty years after the internet’s mainstream debut, our hunger for that discretion crescendos. And with good reason, considering the explosion of child pornography on the web (and how AI contributes to it); the flourishing of hate groups online; the biases created by the lack of diversity in algorithms’ data sets; the harm of social media features to adolescents; the proliferation of image-based sexual abuse and deep-fake porn; the digital safety risks of financial technologies for survivors of intimate partner violence; and the erosion of privacy in technology.

Yet no branch of the U.S. government seems poised to make those discretionary calls any time soon. Congress has hope, but no real plan (maybe a plan for a plan?). The Supreme Court’s recent decisions in Counterman v. Colorado and Gonzalez v. YouTube both signal a lack of willingness to apply real-world discretion to the digital world. And whatever soaring rhetoric our presidential candidates offer this election cycle, we know that campaign promises don’t always translate to executable plans. So without a government protecting its people, we wait for the industry to self-regulate (ex: New Zealand), but how much longer should we wait?

A coalition of legal and non-legal professionals, survivors, and technology workers came together, as the New York Cyber Abuse Task Force, to fight technology-facilitated gender-based violence in all its forms… because we couldn’t wait. Technology accelerates the speed and magnifies the scale of existing illegal sexually-abusive behavior such as stalking, spying, spoofing, impersonation, sextortion and non-consensual distribution of sexually explicit images and videos beyond imagination. Lawyers and law enforcement support the survivors of these crimes who are forced to retreat from a digital life – or life altogether. We published the 220 page NY Cyber Abuse Task Force “Manual for Advocates” to help lawyers navigate the courts for the issues that plague abuse victims, but we still need more. We need the engineers, designers, product managers and analysts – the ones with the technical know-how and a desire to use technology for building a better future – to change the industry from within.

Now, if I’m working in big tech, as I did for twenty years, I hear that call, but question what I can realistically do from my perch. I’m juggling too many projects already and wondering when the next round of layoffs will hit. However, the answer is less burdensome than one may think. Because when you build for the users most affected by the harms of technology, the future of all your users will be brighter. All those projects you’re juggling will benefit because a rising tide really does lift all boats.

Reviewing the aforementioned litany of tech-accelerated abuses, five overlapping groups emerge as the most vulnerable to the harms of technology: children, women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, people of color and low-income individuals. When product teams consider these groups as primary users rather than edge-cases, all users benefit. Point in case: the recent updates to air tag tracking devices, which help domestic violence survivors avoid being stalked by their abusers … but also help all users better protect their privacy. Our task force has found that ‘humane’ product design boils down to a product team being able to answer ‘NO’ to the following three questions:

  1. Could your product let someone exert P.O.W.E.R. over another person?
  2. Is that power exerted without the subject’s C.O.N.S.E.N.T.?
  3. Does anything prevent your company from providing law enforcement the right E.V.I.D.E.N.C.E. needed to hold an abuser accountable?

The three acronyms of P.O.W.E.R., C.O.N.S.E.N.T. and E.V.I.D.E.N.C.E. address twenty factors of online abuse that can help protect survivors long before the lawyers are involved.

Whether you’re writing the PRD, presenting wireframes or mocks, architecting the database, writing the technical design doc, determining and implementing API calls, or performing a security or privacy review etc, you can ask these questions below to determine how humane your product design is for vulnerable populations (download one-sheet here):

1st Question: Could your product let someone exert P.O.W.E.R. over another person?

P: Does the success of your product depend on the propagation of content your company did not create?

O: Do you treat behavior in your product differently than if it happened offline? Is there a chance the product could reflect activity online differently than it is occurring offline?

W: Could anyone who is watching, changing settings or asking for help on the user’s account differ from the user herself in your product?

E: Does your product entangle the user’s account to either another account belonging to the same person or another person all together?

R: Could your product be used by one person to malign the reputation of another person?

If YES to any of the above, move to the second question.

If NO to all of the above, first check if others on your team would answer the same way. If they all say NO, great – move to the third question.

2nd Question: Is that power exerted without the subject’s C.O.N.S.E.N.T.?

C: How does a user determine if their account or device has been compromised in real-time in your product?

O: Is the default feature setting opt-in or opt-out in your product? Is the user aware?

N: How does the user negotiate their presence in your product? Does she have an opportunity to understand how her data will be used and where it’s going?

S: How does the user screenshot, store, save and send proof of unconsented-to activity to authorities in your product? Conversely, can a user prevent someone else from screenshotting/saving material intended for them to receive, but not to be distributed to others?

E: How do you monitor points of egress (and ingress, for that matter) for anomalies in your product?

N: If you use social features, how does a user notify her network that she’s cut ties with someone, and warn of potential impersonation in your product? Conversely, is there a way for the user to know if someone reaching out to her is tied to the network of the person who she blocked?

T: Can a user report harm in-product in a timely fashion? Do you respond to the subject’s reports of harassment in a timely manner? Are your revocations of access and removals of content timely? What does it take to trigger your break-glass plan in a timely manner? (ex)

If you don’t have an answer for one or more of these sub-questions, consider whether your product’s features deny options of privacy and consent.

3rd Question: Does anything prevent your company from providing law enforcement the right E.V.I.D.E.N.C.E. needed to hold an abuser accountable?

E: What is your team’s plan for how to work with law enforcement to decrypt encrypted messages?

V: How do you provide verification of identity and data authenticity as required in court? Can you connect the actor to the activity?

I: How does your product back-end integrate with other databases of evidence from previous cyber abuse violations / bad actors to learn and detect future abuse?

D: Enumerate the data logs of user activity with protocols for when that data should be stored, for how long, etc.

E: How do you ensure that your data logs have plain descriptions of each field to explain the meaning of each field, its metadata values and what could be a sign of manipulation?

N: How do current legal protections cover the next iteration of your product or feature?

C: How does your product understand when crimes and confessions are being aired or live streamed?

E: How quickly can the above data be exported to law enforcement in a human readable format in a timely fashion?

If you don’t have an answer for one or more of these sub-questions, consider whether your product is ready to release if you can’t hold abusers of your product accountable.

A handful of examples to get your minds going:

P.O.W.E.R. means possessing control, authority, or influence over someone or something. Could your product let someone exert P.O.W.E.R. over another person? Consider if that person is a historically underrepresented minority and/or a child.

Propagation – Does the success of your product depend on the propagation of content your company did not create? (Propagation is the action of widely spreading and promoting an idea, theory, etc.) Another way of asking this is “Can you hit your GEMS metrics without propagating user-generated content?” For those not in tech, GEMS stands for growth, engagement, monetization, and satisfaction (ex: information satisfaction, regulatory compliance, etc). So can you grow your number of users, lengthen the time they spend in/on a product, increase the revenue you make on them or satisfy their needs without having to propagate content your company didn’t create? If not, you’re inherently incentivized to build a product that encourages fast, frictionless propagation of content – which is at odds with the measures like a cooling period normally associated with rational, deliberate decisions (much less give your product team time to determine if the content adheres to your product policies). For example, social media companies rely on a robust content ecosystem to have users scroll infinitely through a feed. Search engines need content to fulfill user queries (just look up a query like [track my girlfriend] or [stalkerware]). App stores rely on apps like Dream Zone to satisfy some men with ads that gamify rape. Maybe this kind of issue isn’t inherently at odds with your goals, but it’s a consideration.

Offline Parity – Do you treat behavior in your product differently than if it happened offline? Is there a chance the product could reflect activity online differently than it is occuring offline? Showing your genitals to someone without consent is sexual violence. Sending a dick pic to someone should be treated the same.


Verification of identity and data authenticity: Can you provide verification of identity and data authenticity as required in court? Can you connect the actor to the activity? Directly from a prosecutor: “At trial, the main hurdle is often proving that a specific perpetrator sent a specific transmission. Offenders tend to use new devices and public Wi-Fi when distributing the photos/videos. Services exist to mask IP addresses. Some may also use throwaway devices and/or a virtual private network (VPN) to make it seem as if the distribution originated from China or Russia. Getting logs and connection data from a foreign VPN provider (if the logs even exist) is difficult and tedious. Defendants will commonly argue that they themselves were hacked. A well-organized evidence chart can be used to show that only that perpetrator would have the motive and ability to create the campaign of cyber sexual abuse your client endured … but that is usually directly at odds with the internal privacy mandate of a company.”

How do current legal protections cover the next iteration of your product or feature? Here’s a common clause used in temporary restraining orders and orders of protection: The Respondent is not to post, transmit, or maintain, or cause a third party to post, transmit, or maintain, any images, pictures, or other media, depicting the Petitioner in a naked state or participating in any sexual act OR threaten to do the same. The Respondent is to refrain from using Petitioner’s likeness or impersonating Petitioner on any social media. If your product counsel can’t fit your feature into that language, how will you communicate to lawyers and legislators that legal protections need to be updated?

You get it.

The members of our task force, and the technology industry professionals who partnered with us to create this framework, all realize that some of these questions may be addressed at varying seniority levels. We know this framework may be more useful for some types of technologies than others. And in some countries with more authoritarian governments, turning over evidence to law enforcement may require different considerations than this framework considers. But good, iterative product design does not permit perfection to be the enemy of progress – so let’s get started. Instead of doom-scrolling through your social media feeds while watching the presidential debates this week, listen to the candidates’ plans to see if they come close to addressing the groups most vulnerable to tech-enabled abuse. And then maybe take a moment to ask yourself these questions of power and consent in the products you build.

What will be your plan to build more humane technology products in 2024?

Tanuja Jain Gupta is former senior engineering program manager of twenty years, with eleven of those years at Google. During this time, she also advocated for workers’ rights in the form of leading a global walkout against sexual harassment in 2018 and successfully lobbying for Google to end its policy of forced arbitration in March 2019. Gupta was a key advocate for HR 4445, which became law in March of 2022, bringing together survivors of sexual harassment around the country to end forced arbitration at the federal level. For this work, she received the 2019 American Association for Justice Steven J. Sharp Public Service Award. While managing a large team at Google and working on some of its highest profile engineering and regulatory initiatives, Tanuja built a diversity, equity and inclusion program that was replicated by several teams within the company. During this time, Gupta also chaired the Board of the Crime Victims Treatment Center from 2017-2023. Gupta is now a rising 2L at Cardozo Law School, advocating for caste equity and tech reforms. She joined the NY Cyber Abuse Task Force to channel her tech expertise for the benefit of survivors, and hopes her former colleagues in the industry will do the same. Deep thanks to the multiple engineers and trust & safety analysts who contributed to the near year-long development of this framework.

Debevoise Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Secure Order of Protection

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Debevoise & Plimpton LLP for their work securing an order of protection for “Alison,” a survivor, and her son. Read to learn more.

Alizah Charaniya is a 2L at Cornell Law School. She was a 2019 Summer Associate at Vinson and Elkins and a Summer Intern at Sanctuary for Families through V&E’s Public Interest Program.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Debevoise & Plimpton LLP for their work securing an order of protection for “Alison” and her son. The team consisted of Associate Lisa Wang Lachowicz and Supervising Counsel, Wendy B. Reilly.

Seeking Protection on Her Own 

In 2018, Alison courageously walked into Family Court alone to try to get an order of protection for herself and her two children against her boyfriend, with whom they were living.  Alison had previously tried to get him out of her home, but he threatened to hurt her and refused to move out.  For over two years, Alison feared for their safety because of her boyfriend’s physical, verbal, and emotional abuse.  Alison’s boyfriend was also using a form of abuse that has become an increasingly common tool for abusers — he was attacking her on social media with vulgar messages and threatening to distribute sexual photos and videos of her online if she reported him for his continued threats and violence.

Finding Help Through the Courtroom Advocates Project

When Alison walked into court that day, she met Debevoise attorney Lisa Wang Lachowicz, a first-year associate participating in Sanctuary’s Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP).  CAP enables law students and first-year non-admitted law firm associates to advocate for survivors of domestic violence seeking orders of protection.  CAP advocates meet survivors in the courthouse and help them draft same-day family offense petitions and appear in court to advocate for temporary orders of protection.  CAP advocates then have the option of assuming full representation of the client under the supervision of a Sanctuary for Families attorney.

Lisa Wang Lachowicz, Associate

Lisa and her CAP partner drafted a detailed family offense petition for Alison that day and later appeared with her before the magistrate judge, helping her secure a temporary order of protection. Lisa continued to support Alison over the next couple of months as she waited for her next court appearance, assisting her with safety planning, service of process, and other concerns.

“From the very beginning of the case, Lisa was an attentive, supportive, empathetic, and compassionate advocate.  She was incredibly supportive of Alison and was in constant communication with her from the very beginning, where there is often a lot of stress and transition and it can be a difficult time.” – Lindsey M. Song, CAP Senior Staff Attorney.

When it became clear that Alison’s abuser was going to contest the order of protection, Lisa eagerly took on a full representation and committed to working to ensure that Alison secured a strong final order that would protect Alison and her son.

Overcoming Evidentiary Challenges

Wendy B. Reilly, Supervising Counsel

Alison’s case was challenging.  Much of the abuse came in the form of psychological abuse, threats of physical harm, and threats to post sexual images online (also known as cyber sexual abuse), all of which can pose evidentiary hurdles.  In addition, at the time of the hearing, New York State did not recognize cyber sexual abuse as a family offense.

But Lisa was creative in collecting evidence to corroborate the abuse and steadfast in her arguments about why Alison needed protection.  Lisa successfully entered into evidence multiple damning text messages from Alison’s boyfriend—including texts where he threatened to distribute sexual photos of her—a police report, and bank statements showing that her abuser had used her debit card without her permission. Further, Lisa successfully prevented the abuser from introducing voluminous texts that he was going to use to muddy the record. These evidentiary wins were critical developments in in the hearing.

“It was incredibly rewarding to give Alison her day in court and encourage her to share her story.  This was the first time she had reached out to an attorney and she put a lot of trust in me.  She was scared to say what she wanted to say and nervous to see her abuser after a long time, but she stayed focused and conveyed her story to the judge.  When the judge credited her testimony, and discredited the abuser’s, it was extremely validating for her.”  – Lisa Wang Lachowicz

At the end of the hearing, the judge issued a strong final two-year order of protection for Alison and her son, who had been subject to repeated verbal abuse by Alison’s boyfriend.  The final order included a provision prohibiting Alison’s abuser from posting, distributing or threatening to post or distribute any intimate images or videos of Alison.  This was an important protection, and one that not all judges were willing to add at that time, particularly because there was no criminal penalty or family offense in New York State directly related to cyber sexual abuse.  Thankfully, that recently changed when Governor Cuomo signed a law in July 2019 making the unlawful disclosure of an intimate image a criminal and family offense in New York State.

“Lisa took on a case that otherwise would likely not have resulted in anything more than a short limited Order of Protection.  She was able to support Alison and use her legal training to get Alison what she needed – a final stay-away order for two years. Alison was very relieved and incredibly grateful for Lisa’s assistance.” – Lindsey M. Song

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 12, 2019, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor this Debevoise team’s outstanding pro bono work.  You can buy tickets here

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

New York State moves to protect survivors of cyber sexual abuse

This legislation will go a long way to help survivors like our client Nathaly pursue justice against abusive partners who seek to humiliate, harass, and coerce their victims. 

Today, landmark legislation was unanimously passed in the New York State Legislature to criminalize the non-consensual dissemination of sexually explicit images and videos, commonly known as “revenge porn” or “cyber sexual abuse.” This legislation will go a long way to help survivors like our client Nathaly pursue justice against abusive partners who seek to humiliate, harass, and coerce their victims.

When Nathaly first ran into Sanctuary staff attorney Lindsey Song at the Bronx Family Court House, she was anxious and distraught. A former boyfriend she had dated as a teenager had recently sent her a link to a porn website with a video of the two of them having sex – a video she did not know even existed. The link included her full name, where she was from, and her father’s phone number. This was in 2017, before she helped New York City pass a law criminalizing cyber sexual abuse and before any legal remedies existed for victims like herself.

Today, thanks to Nathaly’s courageous advocacy in partnership with Sanctuary and the work of Assembly Member Edward Braunstein, Senator Monica Martinez, and numerous advocates and other survivors, New York joined 42 other states that have passed legislation to protect victims of cyber sexual abuse and recognized the terrible magnitude of harm that it inflicts upon victims.

Watch Nathaly’s speech from our annual benefit last year >

At Sanctuary, we see the devastating damage that cyber sexual abuse causes its victims. Survivors are often forced to change their names and flee the state to escape the horror of having their most intimate photos go viral; others have been threatened with sexual and physical violence when their photos have been posted, and many have lost their jobs, families, or communities as a result of this abuse.

Should this legislation be signed into law, it will be a crime to share an explicit image without a person’s consent when done so with the intention of causing emotional, financial, or physical harm. In addition to criminal relief, survivors will also be able to seek justice and protection through both Family and Criminal Courts, as well as secure injunctive relief if a website refuses to take action in removing the videos or images in question.

In late 2017, Nathaly and Sanctuary helped pass New York City’s cyber sexual abuse bill which is being used every day. Today we celebrate their work and the work of others in the passage of a New York State bill which will provide many more survivors like Nathaly with the legal recourse to seek relief from the flood of online harassment that they have long been denied. We hope that the Governor will act quickly to sign this measure into law.

cyber sexual abuse; revenge porn; gender violence

What You Didn’t Know About Cyber Sexual Abuse

Cyber sexual abuse, commonly known as “revenge porn,” is often misnamed and misunderstood. Spring Communications Intern, Lauren Altus, shares five key facts everyone should know about cyber sexual abuse.


‘Revenge porn’ or ‘cyber sexual abuse’?

Cyber sexual abuse, commonly known as “revenge porn,” is often misnamed and misunderstood. In fact, it is difficult to find a simple, coherent definition for this form of abuse.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “revenge porn” is: “Revealing or sexually explicit images or videos of a person posted on the Internet, typically by a former sexual partner, without the consent of the subject and in order to cause them distress or embarrassment.”

But the term “revenge porn” name misrepresents the crime for several reasons. First, it is not about revenge, and second, it is not about porn. Revenge suggests the victim did something to deserve this crime, in effect placing blame on the victim. Less a tool for revenge, cyber sexual abuse is more often used as a way to maintain control over the victim.

For example, thirty-year-old Amanda’s physically abusive husband constantly told her that if she ever tried to leave him he would share damaging photos of her with her family, friends, and even use them in attempts to gain custody. When she finally did leave, he did just that: posted photos of her—even ones taken without her knowledge—on social media. Now, Amanda lives in constant fear, wondering who might see these photos and how might it affect her and her children.

This example drives home our second issue with the term ‘revenge porn’. Porn, though this may not always be the case, is generally considered consensual. Like in Amanda’s case and in others Sanctuary has seen, the photos and videos that are shared are sometimes taken unbeknownst to the victim or are photoshopped or “spoofed” (manipulated using photo editing software or other technology). Even if the photos are taken consensually – i.e. within the context of an intimate relationship – posting these photos online without the consent (and often without the knowledge) of the victim, is a nonconsensual act. For these reasons, we must call this crime what it is: cyber sexual abuse.

Over the last few years, cyber sexual abuse has become an increasingly common form of abuse due the omnipresence of social media in our lives. It’s also one we’ve seen highlighted in the media. From Jennifer Lawrence’s computer hack to Rob Kardashian posting nude photos of Blac Chyna, these instances have revealed the dire need for both legal protections and a better societal understanding of cyber sexual abuse.

Many people are quick to assume that every photo has been taken with the consent of the victim. Others think cyber sexual abuse can be written off as a joke, or that if their state has no law against it, it is okay to post photos of this nature.

Sanctuary attorney Lindsey Song, who has represented a number of victims of cyber sexual abuse in Family Court and with criminal justice advocacy, is the co-chair of the citywide Cyber Sexual Abuse Task Force. Below, she helps break down some of the stigmas surrounding victims of this form of abuse and tells us the five things we may not have known about cyber sexual abuse.

1. Cyber sexual abuse is not just a millennial issue

There are many ways in which someone can become a victim of cyber sexual abuse, Song warns, and they can be anyone from a teen sexting to an eighty-year-old in a photoshopped image.

For example, thirty-five-year-old Molly did not send, or even take, a naked photo when she became a victim of cyber sexual abuse. Her ex-boyfriend photoshopped a photo of her face onto naked images he found online, and then sent those photos to people in her hometown where Molly was ostracized from her entire family and support system. She was then forced to rely on her abuser financially.

When Betty, a 60-year-old woman, broke up with her abusive boyfriend, he reacted by sending an intimate photo to multiple men who then tried to contact Betty online. The situation escalated until Betty had to quit her job as a nurse out of fear that her abuser would continue to send the photo to her coworkers. A New York police officer told her that this was her fault for sending the photo in the first place.

Some example of cyber sexual abuse include when a photo is posted online, shown to others, or disseminated, and that photo was:

  • Taken with the consent of the victim but posted without it
  • Taken without the victim knowing (i.e. the victim was sleeping or was the subject of hidden cameras)
  • Stolen from a victim’s computer or private accounts
  • An image that is doctored, where someone has put the victim’s face on someone else’s body or otherwise made the photo appear to be of the victim when it is not
  • The result of forced production of an image (i.e. drugging a victim)

The one thing each of these victims have in common? “Victim-blaming in each of these situations needs to stop, because none of those victims consented,” Song said

2. A cyber-attack never truly has an endpoint

Song tells us that cyber sexual abuse can be “life-ruining in ways you don’t expect,” as cyber sexual abuse has “no beginning and end.” This often leaves victims fearful that more and more people will gain access to the photos. Unfortunately, no matter how tirelessly the victims and their lawyers work to remove the photos from the Internet, “a cyber-attack never truly ends” as the photos may be shared across multiple sites and platforms, screenshotted by viewers, downloaded onto various devices, and the full reach of the images is never truly known.

3. Cyber sexual abuse is not necessarily just photos or videos

Cyber sexual abuse does not just mean one photo is posted and it doesn’t necessarily mean only photos or videos. Attackers can post addresses, places of business, phone numbers, and other personal information so that strangers subsequently stalk the victim, sometimes demanding sex or harassing the victim in other ways. Song says that as a victim, there is a “constant weight on your shoulders.” Some of her clients have been forced to “change their names, move from their homes, and even change their children’s names,” while others have been excommunicated from their families and communities and even attempted suicide.

4. It is not the victim’s fault

This one should go without saying, but many judge victims for “allowing” the photos to exist in the first place. As Song points out, however, if a person gives their personal financial information to an accountant so that the accountant could do their taxes and then the accountant posted that private information on the Internet, everyone would deem this unacceptable.

As a society, we understand and frequently utilize the concept of specific and selective consent. It is only in the context of sexuality and the human body that this point gets blurry. In some instances the victim doesn’t even know the photo is being taken. Many attackers also use threats such as sending photos to employers and family members in an effort to blackmail their victims. This is why Song urges us to remember “not to slut-shame, not to victim-blame, and that it is illegal to discriminate based on gender-based violence, which is what this is.”

5. The fear never goes away

A victim can obtain an order of protection to prevent dissemination and can report the crime to law enforcement. Victims can also contact websites directly to have nonconsensual pictures and videos taken down. Still, victims often carry around the fear of another post or another e-mail going up worrying and waiting for another attack.

For instance, when Celia decided to enter a beauty competition, her abusive ex-boyfriend decided to post videos of her engaged in sexual acts—taken without her knowledge or consent—onto pornography websites. He said that he did this in order to “make sure she never lived a normal life ever again.” It worked. Now, Celia is terrified to live her regular life, constantly in fear of what could happen if she upsets her abuser. Even though she was able to flee the relationship, her abuser continues to control her life, and will continue to do so until the law is changed to punish him for this horrific abuse.

[UPDATE] In late 2017, Survivor Leader Nathaly and Sanctuary helped pass New York City’s cyber sexual abuse bill, which is being used every day. Today we proudly celebrate our work and the work of others in the passage of a New York State bill that provides many more survivors like Nathaly with the legal recourse to seek relief from the flood of online harassment that they have long been denied.

If you or anyone you know is a victim of cyber sexual abuse, please reach out to Sanctuary for Families for legal assistance, clinical support, and other resources.

To get involved in our advocacy around cyber sexual abuse, please email Lindsey Song at or Nicole Fidler at to join the citywide Cyber Sexual Abuse Task Force. 


Lauren Altus is a communications intern at Sanctuary and a recent graduate from Johns Hopkins University.