Bill bars malicious sexually explicit images

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HARRISBURG -- The Pennsylvania Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved legislation making it a crime to expose nude or sexually explicit images with the intent to harass the person depicted.

So-called revenge porn has become an increasingly high-profile issue, with bills pending in at least 13 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In October, California enacted a law allowing the possibility of jail time if someone photographing another in a private setting distributes identifiable images with an intent to cause distress.

The Pennsylvania bill heads to the House, where Steve Miskin, a spokesman for the Republican majority, said it will be referred to a committee for review. Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Democrats, said there is overwhelming support for the bill in his caucus.

Gov. Tom Corbett also supports the legislation, his press secretary has said.

Since introducing the bill, Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, said, she has heard from many women and a few men who said they had been victims of what she calls intimate partner harassment.

"The consequences are easy to imagine: personal humiliation, damaged family and personal relationships, strained careers and lost jobs, being stalked by strangers or having your personal property vandalized," Ms. Schwank said. "Some victims ultimately find their images on graphic websites designed to host these images. Those that operate these sites make a good profit by capitalizing on this despicable crime."

Exposing photos would not be a crime under the proposal if the person shown agreed to their sharing. The bill would make the action a first-degree misdemeanor if the victim were a minor and a second-degree misdemeanor otherwise.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania declined to oppose the bill, though it did not lend its support.

"It's always a little tricky when it comes to criminalizing images, because images are a form of expression," said legislative director Andy Hoover. "But this bill has been written in a way that it likely alleviates First Amendment free speech concerns."


Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com, 1-717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley.

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