CT House may wait a year on ‘revenge porn’ bill

Rep. Matthew Ritter

Rep. Matthew Ritter

An effort in Connecticut to outlaw “revenge porn,” the practice of disseminating intimate or sexually explicit images to punish or harass an ex-lover, may fall short this year over questions of how to precisely define it.

Objections raised Thursday to a bill passed Wednesday night by the state Senate has caused the House of Representatives to consider shelving the measure until next year.

“If I was a betting man, I’d say it was a ’15 bill,” said Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, the vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut called the bill a well-intentioned effort to punish a 21st century form of harassment, but the ACLU says it was written so broadly as to raise First Amendment issues.

David J. McGuire, a staff attorney for the ACLU, said the civil liberties group was seeking changes that would refocus the bill on the question of whether an intimate photo was taken with the understanding it shall remain private.

“It’s just entirely too broad,” he said.

Under the bill passed by the Senate:

“A person is guilty of unlawful dissemination of an intimate image when, with the intent to harass, annoy, alarm or terrorize another person, such person electronically disseminates, without the consent of such other person, a photograph, film, videotape or other recorded image of (1) 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 portion of such breast below the top of the nipple, or (2) such other person engaged in sexual intercourse, as defined in section 53a-193 of the general statutes.”

As written, the ACLU says it could cover third parties who distribute images without knowing that there was a lack of consent. Prosecution also could go forward in cases where there was no expectation or agreement that the images would remain private.

The state legislation would make revenge porn a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer Thursday signed into law a revenge porn bill that makes disseminating intimate photos with intent to harass a felony. Last year, California adopted the first such law.

Similar bills are under consideration in two dozen states.

The nightmare of Annmarie Chiarini, a 42-year-old college instructor targeted by an ex-boyfriend, has helped drive the push for the new-age harassment laws.

She says her ex goaded her into posing nude, then posted the images on a pornographic video sharing site when they broke up. He sent links to the photos to friends, colleagues and her son’s kindergarten teacher and tried to auction them on eBay.

“I was horrified,” she told the Associated Press in a story posted last fall. “The night he said he was going to do it, I called the police in an absolute panic and tried to explain what was going on. I said, ‘He’s threatening to put these pictures of me on an eBay auction,’ and they (said), ‘So?’ ”

Ritter said he expects Connecticut eventually will pass a revenge-porn law, but he warns that all the laws and bills have limited reach, not covering less explicit photos that might still be considered an embarrassing invasion of privacy.

The publicity over revenge porn is constructive, reminding people how easily intimate moments can be disseminated over the Internet once they are recorded, Ritter said.

“Guess what?” he said. “Once an image is out there, it’s out there.”

 

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