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Revenge Porn Will Soon Be Illegal in New York State

New York state lawmakers passed legislation on Thursday that would make revenge porn a crime punishable by up to one year in jail.

by Marie Solis
Mar 1 2019, 7:55pm

Javier Pardina/Stocksy

New York lawmakers passed legislation on Thursday criminalizing revenge porn, a form of sexual harassment for which victims often have little legal recourse.

Under the new law, victims of revenge porn would have the legal right to sue perpetrators, who could face up to one year in jail for their crimes, according to the New York Times. The law also allows judges to mandate that people sharing sexual images or videos without the subject's consent remove them, or that websites and social media platforms step in to take them down. Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he supports the legislation.

The law makes New York at least the 42nd state to outlaw revenge porn, which some may consider a glaring ranking for a state thought to be one of the country's foremost progressive leaders. But when state legislators first introduced the bill in 2013—a time when just a few other states had passed revenge porn laws—it languished in Albany.

In June, revenge porn victim advocates attempted to resurrect the proposal, but were stymied by a lobbying group representing Google and other tech giants, which pressured lawmakers in the state Senate to kill it. They agreed to delay the vote until 2019.

“It’s deeply disturbing that Google and tech lobbyists were quiet as a church mouse for the five years this bill has been percolating in Albany and then literally the morning it’s up for vote, they bulldoze in with coercive demands on our lawmakers to change the language,” Carrie Goldberg, an attorney who founded her own law practice after an ex threatened to post nude photos of her online, told the New York Post at the time. “It’s a disgrace how weak our lawmakers look for bowing down to these tech corporate overlords.”

On Thursday, following the bill's passage, Goldberg celebrated a victory she considers hard-won.

“I’ve prepared to give this speech five times over five years,” she told reporters at a press conference. “Sexual privacy is just a fundamental right.”

It's not just that the political winds surrounding revenge porn have shifted in Albany. After November's elections, first-time women candidates helped oust the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of Democrats in the state Senate who voted with Republicans, stalling progressive legislation.

Since the new legislature took office earlier this year, it seems they've managed to loosen the gridlock in the state capitol. In January, lawmakers passed the Reproductive Health Act, legislation bringing state abortion regulations up to Roe v. Wade standards that had been stalled in the state Senate for more than a decade. And on Monday, a handful of state legislators spoke out in support of Decrim NY, a new coalition fighting to decriminalize sex work, and described plans to introduce related legislation in Albany that could have a shot at passing given the legislature's new makeup.

The states that still have yet to push through legislation to fight revenge porn are Indiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Wyoming.

Earlier this year, Indiana lawmakers considered legislation that would allow revenge porn victims to sue for damages, but a committee chair has so far made sure to foil any bills that criminalize revenge porn outright. "They haven’t committed any criminal act," Republican state Senator Mike Young told the Indy Star, suggesting his colleagues seek civil penalties instead. Last month, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker re-filed a bill that would make revenge porn a felony. And around the same time, a senator in Mississippi's state legislature re-filed her own anti-revenge porn legislation after "previous failed attempts," according to local news outlet WLOX.

The fight for revenge porn laws often gets entangled in special interests, as in the case of New York's long struggle, or arguments for free speech, which have thwarted legislation on the federal level.

When California Rep. Jackie Speier introduced the Intimate Privacy Protection Act in 2016—which she'd been working on alongside the bill's cosponsors for upwards of two years—she was met with critique from the American Civil Liberties Union, who worried that it infringed on First Amendment rights to speech.

"This bill could be made better, narrower, so that it would have better chance of passing constitutional muster," Michael Macleod-Ball, the chief of staff at the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office told Broadly in 2016. The version of the bill Speier had drawn up, he said, could end up affecting "people who are circulating family baby photos, people who are circulating photos for art exhibits that depict nudity of sexual activity, as well as journalists, historians, and academics working with historically significant imagery."

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Others have posited
that getting language right is a significant part of the battle in writing revenge porn laws that have a shot at passing. But for victims, it's urgent that lawmakers move quickly to address a problem that reportedly affects one in 25 Americans.

"I went to the police, and they told me there was nothing they could do," Goldberg told the Times this week, recalling her experience trying to report her ex's revenge porn threats. "I went to Family Court, and the judge there told me that I had a First Amendment problem."

Goldberg added: "My clients describe it as an inescapable nightmare, and it is."