Mar 22, 2024 - News

Mass. could finally ban "revenge porn"

Illustration of the Massachusetts State House with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Massachusetts is one of the last states in the country to make "revenge porn" illegal, but it likely won't be dead last.

Why it matters: It took nearly seven years for lawmakers to near the finish line on a bill to outlaw the malicious sharing of explicit images without the subject's permission.

  • "Revenge porn" is the term for when someone threatens to release intimate material — typically nude photos or a sex tape created for private viewing — as a means to embarrass, coerce or extort the subject of the footage.
  • Victims face humiliation and personal and professional consequences if explicit material is released.

Flashback: "Revenge porn" was a top priority for former Gov. Charlie Baker in his second term, but the Republican governor couldn't get the Democrat-controlled chambers to vote on it.

  • The House approved similar legislation in 2022, but Senate leaders began negotiating too late to reach a compromise.

Yes, but: Democrats say the long delays have given them time to nail down a tricky new social and legal phenomenon, and cover cutting-edge technology like deep fake pornography in the bill.

What's inside: The bill also takes steps to stop "coercive control" of sexual abuse victims, where a pattern of abuse or threats is used to punish or manipulate.

  • "Revenge porn" would be considered criminal harassment with a 2.5-year prison sentence and $10,000 fine.
  • The act would create educational programs for minors who share illicit images of other minors and allow prosecutors to divert minors away from child pornography charges.

Zoom in: Examples of "revenge porn" have been popping up in Massachusetts during the years lawmakers have been considering taking action.

  • "Turtleboy" blogger Aiden Kearney was accused by his former girlfriend of threatening to release nudes of her after she began cooperating with police investigating Kearney's alleged witness tampering.
  • An incident in Franklin, where dozens of teenagers sent or received explicit images of fellow students, showed how law enforcement lacked the tools to hold juvenile bad actors accountable without charging them with serious sex crimes.

What's next: If the bill is successfully negotiated this time and signed by Gov. Maura Healey, South Carolina wil be the only state where "revenge porn" remains legal.

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