CALIFORNIA—Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law on Tuesday, October 1, prohibiting revenge porn that went into effect immediately.
SB 255, the bill authored by Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), “creates a new misdemeanor for the distribution of an image of an identifiable person’s intimate body parts which had been taken with an understanding that the image would remain private, commonly referred to as ”˜revenge porn,’” according to the bill’s text.
Under the new law, anyone posting the nude pictures of another person without permission and with an intent to cause emotional distress can be charged with up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
“Until now, there was no tool for law enforcement to protect victims,” Cannella said in a statement. “Too many have had their lives upended because of an action of another that they trusted,” he added.
“Victims of this cruel act are often so humiliated that they pose a threat to harming themselves, as evidenced by numerous examples of cyber revenge victims who have taken their own lives,” he said. “Cyber revenge and its ugly consequences should not be tolerated,” he added.
The bill has faced opposition from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who argued that this could restrict the right to free speech.
“The posting of otherwise lawful speech or images even if offensive or emotionally distressing is constitutionally protected,” the ACLU said in a statement. “The speech must constitute a true threat or violate another otherwise lawful criminal law, such as stalking or harassment statute in order to be made illegal,” they added.
Holly Jacobs, who founded End Revenge Porn after her own encounter with the issue, released a statement saying the law is an “encouraging first step,” but does not do enough to protect the victims who take photos of themselves to share with exes.
“[The law] only addresses images taken or recorded by other individuals, which means that it fails to cover ”˜self-shots,’” Jacobs said.
According to Jacobs, nearly four out of five photos posted online by exes are actually photos that victims shared and were meant to stay private. Jacobs said the reason many saw this law as weak was due to the victim-blaming element.
“If you want my honest opinion as to why this law is so weak, I believe it was unfortunately due to victim-blaming on the part of other legislators,” she said.
While the final bill does not include protections for the victims, Cannella said the original version did.
“I can understand [victims’] concerns with the final bill, but at least we got people talking about it,” said Cannella. “Then we can do more in the future," he added.
Charlotte Laws, a revenge porn activist that worked on the bill with Cannella, said it was important to get the bill passed so it can be expanded later on.
“The future plan is to make an amendment so that self-shots are covered,” Laws said in a statement. “But I do feel like California has wiped away some tears and pain with the passage of this law,” she added.
While California joins New Jersey as one of only two states with legislation to target cyber revenge, California is the first to pass a bill that specifically targets revenge porn.
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