Senator Kamala Harris Sponsoring The First Federal US Bill Criminalizing Revenge Porn

She made history in 2016 as the first Indian-American person to enter the US senate, and the first black senator from California, and now Kamala Harris could make history once again with an important piece of legislation. She is sponsoring the ENOUGH Act which seeks to make “revenge porn” a federal crime. ENOUGH stands for Ending Non-consensual Online User Graphic Harassment, and it has bipartisan support among her colleagues, most notably Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, and Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota.

To date, there is no federal law criminalizing or prosecuting revenge porn, which is the act of posting nude and intimate photos of another person online without their permission or knowledge, with the intent to shame, humiliate or harass them. Bustle reports that there are currently 38 states that have some form of revenge porn laws, but they vary in scope. The ENOUGH Act would include harsher sentences than what is seen on a state level.

“It is long past time for the federal government to take action to give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on these crimes. Perpetrators of exploitation who seek to humiliate and shame their victims must be held accountable,” the senator told Bustle.

The bill would include a fine, which is yet to be determined, and potential 5 year prison sentence. It would also streamline the adjudication process as the landscape of the internet makes revenge porn a very different type of offense than other acts in the current judicial system.

ENOUGH follows on from a piece of legislation first introduced in the House of Representatives in 2016 by California Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat who sponsored the Intimate Privacy Protection Act which ultimately didn’t go anywhere, but Kamala Harris’ bill essentially builds on the components of that Act. It’s no surprise these bills are popping up after a string of very public nude photo scandals involving high-profile celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence.

But as Rep. Speier outlined in 2016, while the celebrities have access to resources to take these online predators to court, everyday people may not which is why a national law would ensure the law has mechanisms to prosecute revenge porn to protect all Americans.

“Celebrities and other high profile victims might be able take on these predators in civil courts, but the average person can’t afford that option. Even more disturbing is the number of victims who have mustered the courage and strength to pursue criminal charges, only to learn there is no law that protects them. My bill will fix that appalling legal failure,” she said, as reported by Mashable at the time.

Rep. Speier also outlined the incredibly damaging consequences that have been reported as a result of revenge porn acts, and why a bill like hers would be so important.

“The damage caused by these attacks can crush careers, tear apart families, and, in the worst cases, has led to suicide. What makes these acts even more despicable is that many predators have gleefully acknowledged that the vast majority of their victims have no way to fight back,” she said.

Her bill also gained bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats alike. After all, this is an issue that can affect anyone, regardless of political leanings, income bracket, gender, age, race etc.

One of the biggest criticisms of Rep. Speier’s version was the fact that if it wasn’t specific enough in its scope, it could potentially infringe on First Amendment rights and prevent people like journalists from, say, sharing images and stories that are of public interest. Bustle’s Jessicah Lahitou uses the example of disgraced former New York Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner, whose sexually explicit images shared online became a major political scandal as it was discovered he was communicating with underage girls.

With this in mind, Senator Harris’ version hones in on how they would define revenge porn, and adds language that criminalizes the distribution of images and material with the explicit intent to intimidate, harass or demean the victim. The ENOUGH Act has been examined by legal scholars who determined it is in line with protecting First Amendment rights. It also has support from major tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat – all platforms that have had to deal with criticism of their own in terms of not doing enough to protect users from targeted harassment.

The significance of this bill potentially being signed into law (which would ultimately require the signature of President Trump) cannot be stated enough, as we are living in a world where cyber crimes are fast becoming a normal part of our culture. According to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, at least one in every eight social media users — or 13% of Internet users — have dealt with threats or been the victims of nonconsensual photo sharing.

It is also well-documented that women and minorities are the most common victims of online harassment and revenge porn. And if there’s one person who has the know-how to create legislation around this issue, it is Kamala Harris. As Refinery29 reports, in 2015, when she was attorney general of California, led the first criminal prosecution of a cyber-exploitation website operator in the U.S. The operator was sentenced to 18 years in prison. She also created an eCrime unit to prosecute cyber crimes.

That same year, Congresswoman Katherine Clark, a Democrat from Minnesota, was working to put pressure on the Justice Department to investigate cases of cyber harassment and stalking, after a number of high-profile stories such as the gamergate movement which saw a barrage of targeted harassment and doxxing of female gamers and game developers.

Clearly this is an issue that deserves better legislation and a system that protects people from having their private lives strewn about online without permission or with the explicit intent to do harm. You can follow the trajectory of the ENOUGH Act, also known as S.2162 on the Congress website, to see whether it gets the votes it needs in the Senate to eventually become a federal law.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Good to know. Especially since men are more victims when it comes to revenge porn; it’s about time the perpetrators face punishment! “First, more men than women are victims of revenge porn. Second, women are more likely than men to engage in revenge porn.”

    https://blog.simplejustice.us/2014/07/29/revengeporn-real-numbers-show-its-not-really-a-gender-issue/

    “Men are more likely than women to report being victims of this online privacy invasion (McAfee, 2013)” https://www.mcafee.com/us/about/news/2013/q1/20130204-01.aspx

    “men get threatened to have their photos exposed online more than women (12% vs. 8%) and often have the threats carried out more than women (63% vs. 50%).”

  2. “It is also well-documented that women and minorities are the most common victims of online harassment”. Nope: “Overall, men are somewhat more likely to experience any form of harassing behavior online: 44% of men and 37%”.

    http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/07/11/online-harassment-2017/ The study was done in 2014 as well, and shows even then, men were more likely to be victim of online harassment.

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