Vermont bill would crack down on 'revenge porn'

AP News
|
Posted: Mar 18, 2015 5:47 PM

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Vermont House passed a bill Wednesday cracking down on "revenge porn" — posting explicit photos or videos of an ex-partner on the Internet without permission.

"The act of disclosing a private, sexually explicit image to someone other than the intended audience ... can accurately be described as pornographic, as it transforms a private image into public sexual entertainment," said Rep. Barbara Rachelson, D-Burlington and one of the bill's main sponsors.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would make it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

If the measure passes, Vermont would join at least 16 states that have enacted similar laws in the past 10 years.

Rachelson said several such cases had occurred in Vermont, and authorities have expressed frustration that no state law allows them to prosecute such behavior.

"A vengeful ex-partner, opportunistic hacker or rapist can upload an explicit image of a victim to websites," Rachelson said. "The victim's name, address and links to social media profiles are often included with the images, and some websites charge a fee to have the materials removed."

She added that "victims are frequently threatened with sexual assault, stalked, harassed, fired from jobs, and forced to change schools. Some victims have committed suicide."

In one Vermont case, St. Albans police "had a case of domestic violence where the husband threatened posting photos if the wife left. She left and he posted, but there was no legal recourse," Rachelson said.

Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that making such Internet postings a felony effectively would criminalize a form of speech and run counter to the First Amendment. He maintained that civil courts, rather than criminal proceedings, would be a better avenue for victims to seek justice.

"The ACLU recognizes the need to protect people from harm," Gilbert said in an email. "But we believe that harm must be demonstrated, and intent to harm be shown, and then a civil remedy — a lawsuit — sought. Actions that may not have resulted in harm, and may not have been intended, shouldn't lead to jail terms."

The legislation follows the conviction of a California man who ran a website devoted to revenge porn and another site that charged fees to people who wanted him to take down material depicting them.

The man was found guilty not under California's 2013 law aiming to crack down on such sites but on 27 other counts including identity theft and extortion. He faces up to 20 years in prison.