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    Monday, July 15, 2024

    Massachusetts on verge of becoming second-to-last state to outlaw 'revenge porn'

    FILE - The Massachusetts Statehouse is seen, Jan. 2, 2019, in Boston. A bill aimed at outlawing “revenge porn” was approved by lawmakers in the Massachusetts House and Senate and shipped Thursday, June 13, 2024 to Democratic Gov. Maura Healey, a move advocates say was long overdue. If signed by Healey, the bill — which bars the sharing of explicit images or videos without the consent of those depicted in the videos — would leave South Carolina as the only state not to have a law specifically banning revenge porn. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

    Boston — A bill aimed at outlawing “revenge porn” has been approved by lawmakers in the Massachusetts House and Senate and shipped to Democratic Gov. Maura Healey, a move advocates say was long overdue.

    If signed by Healey, the bill — which bars the sharing of explicit images or videos without the consent of those depicted in the videos — would leave South Carolina as the only state not to have a law specifically banning revenge porn.

    Supports say the bill, which landed on Healey's desk Thursday, would align Massachusetts with the other 48 states that have clear prohibitions on disseminating sexually explicit images and videos without the subject’s consent. It is a form of abuse that advocates say has grown increasingly common in the digital age, subjecting people to social and emotional harm often inflicted by former romantic partners.

    The bill would make disseminating nude or partially nude photos of another person without their permission criminal harassment. Offenders would face up to two and a half years in prison and a fine of $10,000. On subsequent offenses, the punishment would increase to up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $15,000.

    “No person’s life should devolve into chaos because a private photo was shared without their permission, and no person should fear coercion or be threatened with the sharing of such a photo," Senate President Karen Spilka said.

    The bill explicitly states that even though a person might consent to the initial creation of an explicit image or video that doesn't mean they are also agreeing that it can be distributed without their additional consent in the future.

    The advent of artificial intelligence and deepfake technology in the creation of revenge porn has added to the concerns of lawmakers. Supporters said the bill opens the door to legislation further addressing the implications of the emerging technology.

    Karissa Hand, an aide to Healey, said the governor, who was previously the state’s attorney general, “has long supported legislation to ban revenge porn and hold accountable those who would engage in abusive, coercive and deeply harmful behavior” and looks forward to reviewing any legislation that reaches her desk.

    The legislation establishes a definition for coercive control to account for non-physical forms of abuse such as isolation, threatening harm toward a family member or pet, controlling or monitoring activities, damaging property, publishing sensitive information, and repeated legal action.

    Advocates describe coercive control as a pattern of deliberate behavior by an abuser that substantially restricts another person’s safety and autonomy.

    By expanding the statute of limitation for domestic violence charges to 15 years, the bill would also give survivors a longer time to seek justice.

    Under current law, minors who possess, purchase or share explicit photos of themselves or other minors are charged with violating child sexual abuse laws and are required to register as sex offenders.

    The bill would instead require the state attorney general to develop an educational diversion program to provide adolescents who engage in revenge porn with information about the consequences and life-altering effects caused by engaging in the behavior.

    District attorneys would still have the authority to petition the court to bring criminal charges in extreme cases.

    Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, called passage of the bill in the Legislature “a milestone for survivors in Massachusetts.”

    “Non-consensual sharing of intimate images impacts thousands of people in Massachusetts every year, and increases an individual’s likelihood of further sexual harm,” the group said in a written statement.

    “This bill takes a thoughtful approach to addressing the problem - one that balances strong protections for survivors with a recognition that younger people who cause this harm often can and should benefit from educational diversion over prosecution,” the group added.

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