During recent meetings of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, there were two words no one wanted to utter in mixed company: revenge porn.
All blushing aside, the increasing tendency of jilted lovers to post nude pictures of their former soul mates online was considered by the committee to constitute behavior worthy of being labeled a crime.
Following much debate, the committee passed Senate Bill 489 by a 39-1 margin and the measure awaits action by the full Senate. If passed into law, Connecticut would follow California and New Jersey in approving a statute to make it illegal to use so-called revenge porn to embarrass or harm someone.
Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Southbury, a member of the committee, indicated that he and fellow lawmakers steered away from using the term “porn” in their discussions as much as possible. The legislation, he pointed out, was officially named “An Act Concerning Unlawful Dissemination Of An Intimate Image Of Another Person.”
Asked about the more popular nickname of the bill, he responded, “that’s what some people were calling it.”
In all, 23 other states have considered similar laws or changes to existing antivoyeurism laws in 2014. California started the trend last year, when Gov. Jerry Brown signed related legislation that makes it a misdemeanor for someone to take explicit pictures of another, and then disseminate those images without permission.
In Connecticut, the law would make sharing an intimate “photograph, film videotape or other recorded image” of another person a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.
For the purpose of the proposed statute, an intimate image is one that depicts “the genitals, pubic area or buttocks of such other person, or the breast of such other person who is female with less than a fully opaque covering of any portions of such breast below the top of the nipple.”
Images showing a person “engaged in sexual intercourse” would clearly fall within a violation of the proposed law. One important requirement of the criminal offense would be sharing intimate images in order to “harass, annoy, alarm or terrorize” another person.
If passed, the law would take affect on Oct. 1.
Even the most virtuous computer user understands that the Web is inundated with pornography websites. Some of those sites, or sections of sites, cater specifically to “revenge porn” photos posted by former partners.
Many of the other states taking on the issue have expanded on existing statutes regarding invasion of privacy charges, although Connecticut’s measure would create a new criminal charge.
Among the most strict of the proposed new revenge porn statutes is one pending in Rhode Island. The Legislature there is considering a measure which would prohibit the sharing of sexually explicit or intimate images of another person without their permission. Violators would be guilty of a felony, and face up to three years in prison, up to $3,000 in fines, or both.
During public hearings in Connecticut, no revenge porn “victims” presented testimony. But Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane and state Victim Advocate Garvin Ambrose expressed support for the measure. “The crime is not possessing the images,” Kane testified. “The crime is … to cause harm and anguish to the other party.”
Ambrose said there are ongoing criminal cases in the state involving complaints of revenge porn. “States are only beginning to acknowledge and criminalize revenge porn,” he wrote to the Judiciary Committee.
“If this proposal is adopted, victims, law enforcement and prosecutors alike won’t have to rake through Connecticut’s criminal code attempting to find and stretch a provision that may fit the crime,” Ambrose wrote. “This proposal empowers law enforcement to take quick action upon a report of distribution of revenge porn, as there will be identifiable legal grounds for their intervention.”
Sandra Straub, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, provided opposition to the measure. She cautioned against making it a crime to distribute “images that could be taken openly at a beach, fashion show or celebrity gala.” Any such law, she said, should require the violation of a privacy agreement between former lovers before there is any prosecution.
“Laws concerning this issue must be narrowly drawn,” Straub said. She said the California law, which was not opposed by the California ACLU, hinges on such an agreement and evidence that the person who shared the picture was intending to cause harm to the person whose image was posted. Both elements must be present for the law to be violated in California, Straub said.
Criminal defense lawyers in Connecticut said they are watching closely to see if the measure passes. Among them is Fred Paoletti of Paoletti & Guzman in Bridgeport, who has his doubts that such a law will result in many successful prosecutions in Connecticut.
“If the law is on the books, prosecutors might have a difficult time establishing who posted the image [online], who put it out there,” he said. “I think individual prosecutors might have mixed feelings about a law, so it will remain to be seen whether they’re going to be aggressive on this, or not.”•