Utah House passes 'revenge porn' bill

Friday , February 14, 2014 - 4:14 PM

Antone Clark, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY – An angry ex-husband or lover sharing intimate images of their partner online, or by other means, will be subject to prosecution if legislation that cleared the House Friday becomes the law.

A bill addressing revenge porn easily cleared the House after lawmakers weighed the merits of how to establish penalties for the offense. The legislation, HB 71, originally set the penalty for the offense as a third degree felony but was amended on the floor to make a first offense a misdemeanor and to make the second offense a felony.

Lawmakers also debated whether sharing more than one photo on the first offense, then constituted a felony. Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, added specific language to the bill to clarify what constituted a second offense.

Bill sponsor Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Salt Lake City, cited a pending case in Davis County in arguing victims of the unwanted sharing of intimate or compromising moments are victimized, sometimes for life by the abuse.

Two states currently have laws on the books addressing the issue, California and New Jersey, but Poulson said at least 13 other states besides Utah are looking at legislation to address the problem.

Poulson’s bill is the merger of two bills. Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley, merged legislation on the issue with Poulson’s initiative to attack the problem.

Hall was the most vocal supporter of the need for change on the floor. He said the bill will pass constitutional review.

“The First Amendment is not a blanket protection for malicious and harmful conduct,” Hall said. He said existing civil law doesn’t adequately protect revenge porn victims and even if a victim wins in court, they seldom get little as a result.



Poulson said the bill was carefully crafted to address victims 18 or older. She said minors are protected under existing child pornography law.

Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, who works in law enforcement, struggled with the bill and was the first one to suggest that someone convicted of the abuse should not face a felony on the first offense. He said both parties created the problem with a mutual agreement between the two of them, when any compromising photos were taken.

“I’m a little miffed that someone creates their own problem and then they want the government to fix the problem,” Greenwood said.

Besides addressing pictures taken consensually, the bill also addresses adults who have been photographed unknowingly and it extends protections to those victims as well.

“I have so often observed people naively sharing some of this information, not aware of the consequences later. Are we blaming the victims in this situation?” Poulson asked.

Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, said he has seen the impact of the abuse during his years in dealing with court cases.

“This may well alter a person’s life for a score of years. It becomes a scarlet letter impossible to escape,” McIff said.

The bill now advances to the Senate for further consideration.

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