Massachusetts House Unanimously Passes ‘Revenge Porn’ Legislation

Massachusetts House Unanimously Passes ‘Revenge Porn’  Legislation

Coercive ControlBy Jan 16, 2024

The Massachusetts House of Representatives has unanimously approved legislation aimed at addressing the gap in the state’s legal framework regarding revenge porn. This marks the second consecutive legislative term that lawmakers are pushing to close the “loophole” that leaves Massachusetts and South Carolina as the only states lacking clear, enforceable bans on revenge porn.

According to The Boston Herald, the newly approved bill, passed with a resounding 151-0 vote, criminalizes the act of sharing sexually explicit images or videos of an individual without their consent. Furthermore, it seeks to expand the definition of abuse to include coercive control. Incredibly, Massachusetts and South Carolina stand out as the only states without comprehensive protection against this violation, leaving survivors vulnerable and seeking justice.

A Much Needed Deterrent Against Revenge Porn

Judiciary Committee Co-chair Rep. Michael Day highlighted the urgent need for this legislation, recounting harrowing experiences shared by survivors who faced the dissemination of intimate images without their consent. Underlining the inadequacy of current laws, Rep. Day pointed to a legal loophole originating from a 2005 Supreme Judicial Court ruling that hindered prosecutors from charging revenge porn suspects unless there were three or more incidents.

The House-approved bill addresses this gap by amending the state’s criminal harassment law, explicitly prohibiting the distribution of sexually explicit images or videos without consent. This offense could now result in penalties of up to two and a half years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000, providing a more robust legal deterrent against revenge porn.

Nuanced Protections of Teens

Furthermore, the legislation introduces crucial updates for dealing with teen sexting, offering a more nuanced approach for law enforcement. The bill directs the attorney general’s office to establish an educational diversion program for minors involved in explicit image sharing, aiming to guide them away from the traditional justice system. Importantly, consensual sharing of explicit images by 16- and 17-year-olds will not lead to criminal penalties.

Recognizing Coercive Control As Abuse

The House-approved bill also expands the definition of abuse to include “coercive control,” a critical addition to protect victims from behaviors aimed at limiting their safety or autonomy. Rep. Tram Nguyen emphasized the necessity of recognizing coercion in legal proceedings, sharing examples of clients who faced prolonged abuse due to courts not acknowledging their experiences.

In a move to support survivors further, the bill extends the statute of limitations from six to 15 years for assault and battery on a family or household member or against someone with an active restraining order. This aligns with existing limitations for other sexual violence crimes, offering survivors adequate time to escape their perpetrators and seek justice.

Despite unanimous approval, the fate of the legislation now rests with the State Senate. Advocacy groups, including Jane Doe Inc. (The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence ), have praised the bill, describing it as providing “essential protections” for survivors. As survivors and reform supporters await action from the Senate, the hope is for a more expedited process than the previous legislative term, where a similar bill faced delays and ultimately had to be restarted. The urgency of this legislation cannot be overstated, as it aims to bring Massachusetts in line with 48 other states that already have robust bans against revenge porn in place.

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