By: Steve Kelly, Principal in G&E’s Civil Rights Practice

The disturbing deepfake pornography trend is rocking the nation—but schools aren’t always equipped to handle the fallout, and federal legislation hasn’t yet caught up. Recently, a Westfield High School student decided to take her classmate to federal court over pornographic images of her that were created without her consent using artificial intelligence. The student is one of possibly 30 victimized females at the school—and one of many others across the country.

The prevalence of deepfake pornography—nonconsensual fake pornography that is created often using artificial intelligence—is becoming a nationwide crisis at schools across the country. For the victims, it is not only humiliating and disturbing, but the lack of discipline, repercussion, and inconsistency on part of the school system is an injustice to the victims. This problem has ballooned over the past several months and years; quickly enough that the law has not caught up.

Recently, the student body at Westfield High School in New Jersey was reeling after AI-generated pornographic images of possibly 30 female students were created without the victims’ consent, and allegedly distributed online. The school became aware of the deepfake pornographic content in October 2023, after students informed administrators that the images were created and shared publicly online. The attorneys at Grant & Eisenhofer are actively investigating these claims.

One of the victims, 14-year old Francesca Mani, is calling for federal legislation to punish anyone who creates  these inappropriate images and shares or distributes them online. Francesca and her mother Dorata say the lack of legal recourse to protect victims of this type of crime is frustrating, and they are demanding accountability from the school as well as government officials.

“I think the school should contribute to helping make all the girls more comfortable in our school, because so many girls don’t feel comfortable knowing that he’s walking our hallways. I also think there should be a law inputted against the AI to protect everyone from this.” Francesca said in an interview with CNN.

Schools across the nation are confronting this issue as well, including at a Beverly Hills middle school and a Miami high school. Some students are hesitant to return to school after being victimized, due to humiliation and fear.

With the rise of artificial intelligence over the past several years, deepfake pornography using AI—including images and videos—has increased dramatically. States are starting to pass bills to fight against the use of deep fake imagery in nonconsensual pornography, including California which passed legislation in 2020.  The California law allows victims of deepfake pornography to sue those who create and distribute sexually explicit deepfake material without the victim’s consent. According to USA Today, nine other states have passed laws prohibiting deepfake pornography.

Currently, there is no federal law regulating this kind of misconduct, though advocates are trying to initiate a wave of change to protect innocent victims of this devastating trend.

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