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Kamala Harris and Bipartisan Legislators Hope to Pass Federal Anti-Revenge Porn Law

The SHIELD (Stopping Harmful Image Exploitation and Limiting Distribution) Act aims to hold perpetrators accountable for nonconsensual pornography.

by Samantha Cole
May 22 2019, 6:37pm

Image via Pexels

After a years-long effort around criminalizing revenge porn, legislators and activists are once again trying to pass nonconsensual pornography legislation at the federal level.

According to an announcement from the office of California Democratic congresswoman Jackie Speier and New York Republican congressman John Katko, the bill, known as the SHIELD (Stopping Harmful Image Exploitation and Limiting Distribution) Act, is a reintroduction of federal legislation "that targets perpetrators who knowingly share sexually explicit or nude images of someone without their consent," commonly known as revenge porn. Some states have laws against spreading nonconsensual pornographic imagery. In February, for example, New York state assembly passed legislation to criminalize revenge porn. But there is no law at the federal level that addresses revenge porn.

Speier has been pushing for revenge porn law reform since 2016 and has tried again with new iterations of the bill every year since, from the Intimate Privacy Protection Act (IPPA) proposal to the Ending Nonconsensual Online User Graphic Harassment (ENOUGH) Act.

Senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris is set to introduce companion legislation in the U.S. Senate, according to the press release, but has yet to share details on that legislation.

“Nobody, under any circumstances, should have private images shared on the internet without their consent,” Harris told Motherboard. “I’m proud to join with my colleagues in the House to reintroduce legislation that will give prosecutors important new tools to bring perpetrators to justice and further deter them from committing such an egregious violation of privacy.”

Support on this legislation from a high-profile democrat like Harris could help push the bill through, but Harris' track record for passing legislation that benefits victims, instead of further harming marginalized people, is questionable at best. Harris championed of the takedown of Backpage and support of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) last year.

The details of this version of the SHIELD Act aren't yet available, but free speech advocates have cautioned in the past that over-broad, vague phrasing of legislation that polices online sexual speech can have disastrous results—as we saw happen with FOSTA.

Katelyn Bowden, founder of revenge porn activist group BADASS, told Motherboard that this legislation is long overdue. “There’s been a huge amount of progress at getting laws criminalizing revenge porn on the state level, but jurisdictional issues and budget constraints for Law enforcement have made them difficult to enforce," Bowden said. "Having a federal law would help with both of those issues, as well as cover more individual cases that may fall through the cracks of the state laws."

Bowden said that BADASS is "confident" that this legislation will make a difference in how image-based sexual abuse is handled in the U.S. "The laws have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to online crimes, and this is one of the ways they’ve failed to keep up with the ever changing landscape of the internet.”

Joseph Cox contributed reporting to this story.