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House passes 'revenge porn' bill

Published February 14, 2014 10:03 pm

'Intimate images' • Bill would outlaw distributing them without consent.
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Jilted lovers be careful with reprisals: the House voted Friday — in an unusual debate for a Valentine's Day — to make "revenge porn" a class A misdemeanor, with repeat offenses classified as third-degree felonies.

Representatives passed HB71 on a 68-6 vote, and sent it to the Senate.

It would outlaw distributing "intimate images" of adults, such as partial nudity or sexual conduct, of someone without consent and with intent to cause emotional distress or harm.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, said such images are often posted online or sent digitally after a couple separates — and is not clearly illegal under existing laws.

"Families and lives are destroyed. Victims are harassed, stalked, threatened and embarrassed. They lose jobs. They are forced to change schools. And some have even committed suicide," Poulson said.

But Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, said, "I am rather miffed that someone creates their own problem" by consenting to and creating such images "and then wants the government to fix it."

"Are we blaming the victims in this situation?" Poulson asked. She taught school for years, said she often saw young people "naively or unwisely sharing some of this information not aware of the consequences that can come."

Some lawmakers worried the bill could lead to prosecution of some innocent action of sharing images or could violate free speech rights.

"Protection of free speech is not absolute," Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, cosponsor of the bill, said in response. "The First Amendment does not serve as a blanket protection for malicious and harmful conduct," adding that prosecutors would need to prove malicious intent for a conviction.

The bill originally would have made all offenses a third-degree felony. After Greenwood and others said that was too stiff, the House amended it to make a first offense a class A misdemeanor.

Poulson also read a letter during the debate from a victim who was 19 and in college when a former boyfriend first started distributing such images.

"It nearly destroyed me," the letter said. "There was no law to stop the person from continuing to assault me both emotionally and by reputation."

It added that 12 years later and after spending thousands of dollars to obtain a restraining order, the victim still lives in fear "that this psychotic predator … might continue to get away with this crime that he has yet to be punished for."

Rep. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, joked that the debate was "a Valentine's Day buzz kill."