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Massachusetts Senate passes bill aimed at outlawing “revenge porn”

Mar 21, 2024, 1:18 PM

BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts bill that bars someone from sharing explicit images or videos without consent was approved Thursday by the Massachusetts Senate.

The bill, which now goes to conference committee to hash out differences with the House, means only South Carolina has not banned “revenge porn.”

“With passage of this bill today we take another step towards closing a loophole in our laws that has caused pain, anguish, embarrassment, and a sense of helplessness to those survivors who for so long suffered in silence, without justice,” Democratic Sen. John Keenan, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said in a statement.

“I am deeply grateful to the those who shared their stories and advocated for change to ensure others would not have to suffer as they have,” he said. “For every case we know of, countless others remain hidden, so I hope passage of this legislation by the Senate will soon lead to the bill being signed into law by the Governor.”

Sen. Paul Feeney, who recognized that several victims were the gallery during the debate, said the bill addresses the “embarrassment, helplessness and shame” that comes from learning that your explicit images were on a website and that there was nothing you could do legally to address it.

“Although it pains me that we even have to deal with this, I am thrilled that we are here sending a message and showing residents of the commonwealth that we will no longer stand by as people are victimized and abused” he said. “Make no mistake about it, it is emotional and sexual abuse, and we are taking steps here today to send a message that we hear you.”

Minors who possess, purchase, or share explicit photos of themselves or other minors can currently be charged with violating the state’s child pornography laws and are required to register as sex offenders.

The bill would instead authorize commitment to the Department of Youth Services, but it also allows minors to be diverted to an educational program instead of criminal punishment. The diversion program would teach teenagers about the legal and nonlegal consequences of sexting and would be available to school districts.

The legislation would also address the nonconsensual distribution of explicit images by adults by establishing a penalty in the existing criminal harassment statute, including up to 2 1/2 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The criminal ban would also extend to what are known as deep fake pornography, which use computer-generated images.

Coercive control, which advocates describe as a pattern of deliberate behavior by an abuser that substantially restricts another person’s safety and autonomy, would also be added to the definition of abuse under the bill. Examples of coercive control include threatening to share explicit images, regulating or monitoring a family or household member’s communications and access to services, and isolating a family or household member from friends or relatives.

The legislation would also extend the statute of limitations for assault and battery on a family or household member or against someone with an active protective order from six years to 15 years.

This change would bring the Massachusetts statute of limitations for the domestic violence offenses in line with the statute of limitations for rape, assault with intent to commit rape and sex trafficking.

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Massachusetts Senate passes bill aimed at outlawing “revenge porn”