Utah bans ‘revenge porn’

Revenge PhoneWEB-01-01

Graphic by Brett Ferrin

Utah lawmakers have passed a new law banning what is commonly referred to as “revenge porn.” House Bill 71 creates criminal penalties for disturbing intimate images with the intent to cause emotional distress or harm.

The bill passed the House with only six members voting against it, and through the Senate unanimously. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed the bill into law on March 29, and the law will go into effect on May 13, making the distribution of the images a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail and up to a $2,500 fine. Repeat offenders could face felony charges.

“Revenge porn” has recently become a form of retribution when people post intimate pictures of their ex-lovers on the Internet.

State Rep. Marie Poulsen, the Cottonwood Heights Democrat who sponsored the bill, said she has heard many stories from women who have been victimized through publication of intimate or private photos. Prior to Herbert signing the bill, a victim could only take action through the civil court system.

“Suing someone can be time-consuming and expensive,” Poulsen said. “I wanted to provide another way for these victims to get justice.”

With advances in technology, more people are using mobile phones to send and receive intimate messages and upload the pictures on social media sites as well for easy access.

A Pew Research Center survey found that 1 in 4 adults ages 18-24 have received suggestive photos and videos. For people in the age range of 25-34, the number is almost 1 in 3.

These large numbers have created a demand for websites specializing in nude photos of unwilling and unknowing participants. However, the Utah law protects Internet service providers and mobile phone companies from being criminally liable.

Utah joined California and Maryland in banning revenge porn, although many states have introduced similar legislation. Advocacy groups such as the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative are pushing for a federal ban on revenge porn.

Some people question whether or not these laws violate First Amendment rights, claiming that once someone owns a picture, they have the right to do with it as they wish.

David Lynch, chair of the Weber State University Criminal Justice Department, said he doesn’t agree.

“The First Amendment was created to protect ideas,” Lynch said. “What ideas are you protecting there? If you’re just trying to cause someone harm, I wouldn’t think that would be protected speech. It’s an assault on someone.”

Another concern about the bill is whether the intent to harm can be proven in criminal court.

“Courts prove intent all the time,” Poulsen said. “We have several laws on the books that require intent to be proven.”

Poulsen said she worked closely with the Utah Legislature’s legal staff to ensure First Amendment right were protected and that the cases would be prosecutable.

Lynch echoed Poulsen that juries make judgments about intent all the time and “they can make guesses about intent as long as that guess is beyond all reasonable doubt.”

Andrew Brestedt, a high school senior in Farr West, said he’s heard of revenge photos circulating at his school.

“People just need to be more mature about their breakups,” he said. “The law is a good thing because it protects people’s privacy.”

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Posted by on April 3, 2014. Filed under News, Politics, Utah. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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