A new bill would criminalize 'revenge porn' photos and videos. Ryan Anson/AFP/Getty Images)
A new bill would criminalize ‘revenge porn’ photos and videos. Ryan Anson/AFP/Getty Images)

By Jenny Simeone

Jilted lovers have been known to make questionable decisions after being rejected by their exes, often without consequences. However, those who choose to humiliate through “revenge porn” — the public sharing of intimate photos or videos of exes — could soon find themselves facing misdemeanor charges in California.

This week state lawmakers passed SB255, a measure that would punish those who distribute intimate recordings or photographs of another person, without his or her consent, with the intent to cause emotional distress.

“People who post or text pictures that are meant to be private as a way to seek revenge are reprehensible,” noted SB255’s creator, Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), in a press release in May. “Right now, there is no tool for law enforcement to protect the victims. Too many have had their lives upended because of an action of another that they trusted.”

The bill was approved last month in the Senate and cleared the Assembly on Wednesday in a unanimous vote. Changes in the measure’s language will be reconciled in the Senate before the bill is sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for final approval.

The bill was created in response to a KCRA investigative report conducted in May that broadcast the testimonies of revenge porn victims, and the lack of legislation allowing law enforcement officials to prosecute.

If SB255 becomes law, conviction on distributing revenge porn will carry a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail. A second offense would bring the fine up to $2,000 and double the potential jail time.

These misdemeanors would not result in the perpetrator becoming a registered sex offender.

“It is unfortunate that we have to create legislation to protect individuals from the misuse of technology,” said Christine Ward, executive director of Crime Victims Action Alliance (CVAA). “I applaud Sen. Cannella for his efforts to prevent future victimization in California.”

While the bill proposes that the state leap into the ambiguous and slippery territory of cyberlegislation, it only covers a narrow sector of revenge porn situations.

SB255 applies only when the person maliciously distributing an image is the person who shot it. So, self-taken intimate images sent to others, and later distributed without consent by the receiving party, are not protected by this legislation and will keep online revenge porn forums in business.

Former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness said the bill is a step in the right direction but should cover “selfies” and involve harsher punishment.

“Those so-called selfies are produced at the request of recipients,” McGinness told KCRA. He sees the legislation as a positive but inadequate step in the right direction. “That goes back to what I believe creates an expectation of privacy. I don’t think it’s very effective (and) I don’t think it’s going to have the desired impact.”

Earlier this year, a similar bill was introduced by Florida lawmakers but failed to garner enough votes to pass. New Jersey is currently the only state with legislation that compares to SB255, which punishes video voyeurs.

“The law does not keep up with the technology,” noted Cannella of the measure’s goals. “Hopefully (this) raises the bar enough where people think twice about engaging in this behavior because it’s ruined people’s lives.”

 

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