The act of distributing nude or sexually explicit images without consent—often colloquially referred to as "revenge porn"—has become an issue of popular concern and the product of frequent news headlines both in Canada and internationally. Activist and academic work has largely focused on gaining recognition of the harms of non-consensual intimate image distribution (NCIID) and campaigning for its specific criminalization; yet, little research has been done to analyze how this act is actually being responded to in the everyday practice of the law and to determine the broader social impacts of these legal responses to and understandings of NCIID. Thus, in this dissertation, I undertake a critical discourse analysis of NCIID case law in Canada. Through this research, I map and analyze the ongoing legal construction of and response to NCIID and trouble many of the prevailing assumptions regarding the nature of NCIID and the efficacy of legal responses to this act.
My discursive analysis of legal responses to NCIID utilizes anti-carceral, pro-sex, intersectional, and critical legal feminisms (along with queer theory and theorizations of technology and photography) to determine what NCIID is "coming to mean" (Crocker 2008, 90) in law. I find that NCIID is a complex issue involving: a diversity of victims and offenders, a range of harms, a plethora of potential framings, and a variable relationship to digital technologies. Ultimately, I argue that an analysis of the efficacy of responding to NCIID in law must consider this diversity of cases and the socio-legal impacts of various constructions of and responses to NCIID.
My research finds that Canadian judges have largely understood NCIID as an extremely harmful act requiring denunciation and deterrence (often via incarceration). Although this may be understood by many "revenge porn" activists and researchers as an unproblematic development that demonstrates the effectiveness of legal responses to NCIID, I argue that it is necessary to critically analyze the unexpected consequences and shortcomings of responding to NCIID through law.