Helping Hollywood Stay Mindful when Portraying Sexual Violence

Erin Earp, co-interim vice president of public policy, sat down with senior content writer and strategist Sierra Scott to talk about RAINN’s federal bills for the next year, the influence of policy in the entertainment industry and other special projects.

RAINN works with the entertainment industry to educate the public about sexual violence. How have you used your expertise in policy to support this work?

Here’s one example: We are always concerned about the portrayal of sexual violence in entertainment. Is the content glamorized, is it fetishized, is it re-traumatizing? At the same time, if sexual violence was not portrayed on TV and in film, it would not be a genuine reflection of the society we live in and it would silence traumatic experiences.

It can be a tough job to figure out how to walk that line to portray sexual violence, so we partner with most of the major broadcast and cable channels and streaming services to advise them on portrayals of sexual violence. 

As a former SVU prosecutor, I’ve seen what survivors go through when they testify against their perpetrators. As a society, we encourage people to report sexual assault and hold offenders accountable, which is important, but it's also important to acknowledge the cost of that path for survivors.

RAINN is working on a video series on child sexual abuse. Can you give us a sneak peek into the project?

The Oak Foundation awarded RAINN a three-year grant to help combat child sexual abuse (CSA) and the proliferation of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online. Part of the grant has supported the development of a video series to help parents and caregivers prevent abuse and care for children who have been abused. The video series is a partnership with a non-profit called No Limit Generation that makes informational videos around children’s mental health.

It will be a five part video series. Each video is approximately 10 minutes long and addresses topics related to child sexual abuse and child exploitation. Overall, the videos are aimed at caregivers of children, including parents, foster parents, and family and community members who have a caregiving relationship with a child. We conducted interviews with subject matter experts and survivors, including RAINN Speakers Bureau members to create the videos.

What bills are your team currently working on?

Right now, we are working on a number of federal bills, some of which have been introduced and some which have not. We are also currently getting into our state process. Many state legislatures run the first three or four months of the year so we are now putting together what we want our state bills to look like.

As far as the federal bills, the Oak Grant has allowed us to build our capacity to fight child sexual abuse. Some of the bills we’re working on are the Child Rescue Act and Project Safe Childhood, which will improve the ways we address online sexual abuse and exploitation and target the most dangerous offenders. Another bill, the Earn It Act, would hold tech platforms accountable for knowingly having child sexual abuse material (CSAM). While there are currently limited carve outs where platforms can be held accountable, such as copyright and trafficking, there is broad immunity from liability in lawsuits for content published on their platforms.

Right now, survivors have a lot of trouble trying to hold technology companies accountable for the CSAM available on their platforms. This is because the courts have interpreted Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to provide broad immunity. The Earn It Act is a way to tell judges that this interpretation of 230 is not correct. It says you shall not interpret it to provide immunity in these situations because it has been expanded beyond the original intent of the legislation.

Section 230 was originally designed to protect platforms that wanted to do content moderation and ensure a safe platform, by giving them immunity for things that have been posted. This was in the 90s; the internet has changed and grown into something completely different than what we thought it was back then.

Technology companies, right now, have a special immunity from lawsuits in a lot of contexts. The Earn It Act incentivizes platforms to remove CSAM; right now, the incentives either don’t exist or aren’t enough to balance out the benefits they have to leave up the harmful content.

What is your message to survivors?

We believe you. We want to support you and we want the systems and institutions in our lives to do the same. That is our goal; to create structures, laws, and places where survivors are believed, protected, and served equitably.

Think you can’t change a law? Think again.

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