'Revenge porn' bill makes it through the House

By Daniel Divilio, MyEasternShoreMD

ANNAPOLIS — Not a single vote was cast Thursday, Feb. 27, in the House of Delegates against a bill criminalizing cyber sexual harassment, commonly referred to as "revenge porn." 

House Bill 43, sponsored by Delegates Luiz R.S. Simmons, D-17-Montgomery, and Jon S. Cardin, D-11-Baltimore County, passed out of the House by a vote of 130-0. Eastern Shore co-sponsors included Delegates Michael Smigiel, R-36-Kent, and Addie Eckardt, R-37B-Dorchester.

The bill now makes its way next to the state Senate. If passed there, it goes to Gov. Martin O'Malley for signature.

"A person may not knowingly disclose a photograph, film, videotape, recording, or any other reproduction of the image of another person whose intimate parts are exposed or who is engaged in an act of sexual contact, without the consent of the other person," the bill states.

Cardin, who is running for attorney general, pre-filed the bill in October, about two and a half months before the start of the 90-day General Assembly session. He co-authored HB43 with University of Maryland law professor Danielle Keats Citron, director of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

“In the 21st century, it is not acceptable to ruin someone’s life and then cower behind the anonymity of the Internet,” Cardin said in a statement. 

Speaking about the bill in November, Jeanne Yeager, executive director of the Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence, called revenge porn another form of emotional abuse. She said she thought Cardin's proposal was a step in the right direction to confronting the evolving forms of emotional abuse brought on by the prevalence of social media. 

“I think what I like about this bill is that it's cutting-edge, and it's going to help us now address something that's only going to get more frequent and more abusive as technology expands,” she said. 

According to those such as the CCRI fighting to eradicate revenge porn sites, cyber sexual harassment victims are often left not just dealing with the damage to their reputation and employment, but also mental health issues. 

Those who seek help from law enforcement officers are often told no crime has been committed and there is no legal recourse available to them, according to a news release from Cardin's office

“This law will allow our law enforcement officials to stay one step ahead — to intervene in non-consensual pornography before anyone is forced to carry the emotional scars of sexual harassment for the rest of their life. It’s a critical step towards protecting our citizens from online bullies and predators,” Cardin said in a statement.

The bill requires that a defendant intentionally seek to cause serious emotional distress by placing sexually explicit images on the Internet without consent. Unlike revenge porn laws in some other states, it does not matter, in HB43, who took the photo.

The bill lays out a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for those found guilty of posting an explicit photo of someone without his or her permission. 

Annmarie Chiarini, a victim advocate with the CCRI, said in a statement that she is thrilled with the progress the bill is making.

“This law will protect many Marylanders from the ongoing trauma associated with being exposed on the internet. I am optimistic that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will recognize the damage perpetrators of this behavior cause their victims, both personally and professionally,” she stated.