Jennifer Lawrence calls for stricter privacy laws in an interview in next month's issue of Vanity Fair, after hackers stole intimate photos of the accomplished 24-year-old actress and published them online in August. Lawrence described the ordeal as a "sex crime," although most states do not have laws that would define the hack in that way.

"It is a sexual violation. It's disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change," said Lawrence, who won an Oscar for her role in Silver Linings Playbook. 

The legal system has adapted slowly to changing technology that created a new medium for sexual harassment. Most states have laws of some kind against stalking online, and the federal Violence Against Women Act also offers some protections. Still, there is no explicit federal statute covering what might be the most extreme form of online harassment: disseminating nude images without consent, whether as a way of getting back at an estranged partner or just to make money.

Stealing or publishing images might be illegal under general copyright and wiretapping provisions, but those laws don't make it easy to halt the distribution of the photos once they are made public.

The technical term is "nonconsensual pornography," although the images are more commonly known as "revenge porn." The notorious Hunter Moore has been their most widely reviled purveyor. He created a site that allowed users to publicly post images of their ex-lovers, and he and the site were long protected by a federal law under which a site's operator is not responsible for the material posted there. Moore has been charged in one specific case in which he allegedly paid a hacker to steal nude images.

In the interview, Lawrence alludes to the fact that Web sites themselves are generally not responsible for their users' decisions.

Fifteen states have enacted a law against nonconsensual pornography, said Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami, but not all of these laws are effective. Some only prohibit reproducing nude images with an intent to cause emotional distress, which is not always the hackers' motivation.

"They’re doing it because they want to do it, or because they think it would be entertaining, or maybe because they could profit from it," Franks said.

She also said that the hackers of Lawrence's photos might qualify as sex offenders under some state's voyeurism statutes.

People in Lawrence's situation can file copyright claims against Web sites that post their images, which is one way of forcing the sites to remove them. Still, once an image is available online, it is likely to be downloaded and copied again and again, which can condemn victims to unending paperwork.

Copyright "is the best tool the victims have currently, and I agree it is not an ideal tool," said Charlotte Laws, an activist who was instrumental in building the case against Moore.

"Having some kind of a uniform federal law would be the best way to approach the issue," Laws added. She said she hoped federal legislation could make clear that the operators of Web sites where photos are distributed can also be held culpable.