Ohio General Assembly must take action on revenge porn

Ohio legislators are looking the other way when it comes to “revenge porn.” That might be the right thing to do if you stumble upon revenge porn while surfing the Internet, but lawmakers refusing to take on the criminality of revenge porn is, at a minimum, irresponsible.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, revenge porn is the posting of nude or sexually explicit photographs or videos of people online without their consent, even if the photograph itself was taken with the victim’s consent.

Many relationships end in painful and ugly break ups. A spurned spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend may get revenge by sending photographs taken in private, intimate moments to websites set up specifically for these kinds of explicit photographs or videos.

In Ohio, hundreds of people are using the Internet to punish and humiliate ex-lovers and others by posting explicit photos and videos of them along with their names, addresses and other contact information, according to the Norwalk Reflector.

Silence not golden

Although the Ohio Legislature has been silent on the issue, the courts in Ohio have not. A judge recently imposed a $385,000 fine against Eric Chason and Kevin Bollaert, founders of the revenge porn website ugotposted.com, for broadcasting explicit images of an underage female. The plaintiff’s attorney told Forbes, “the message this $385,000 judgment sends to people who run revenge porn sites is unambiguous,” setting a strong legal precedent that will hopefully deter other would-be distributors.

The Pennsylvania Legislature has at least three pieces of legislation pending that deal with revenge porn. House Bill 1901 and Senate Bill 1167 provide for intimate partner harassment that is committed by exposing a photograph, film or videotape of an intimate partner who is nude or explicitly engaged in a sexual act. House Bill 2017 amends the definition of sexual offenses to include the unlawful dissemination of intimate images.

Last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the first state law criminalizing revenge porn. Bollaert, one of the defendants in the Ohio lawsuit, has been arrested in California under the new statute.

Bills were introduced or are pending in at least 27 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico in 2014. A revenge porn bill recently passed its first test in Colorado. The bipartisan proposal passed through the Colorado House Judiciary Committee by an 11-0 vote after members heard hours of testimony from anguished victims.

States acting

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, laws have been enacted in Idaho, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin, and bills in Georgia and Maryland have passed and are awaiting the governors’ signatures. In New Jersey, similar legislation was passed in the wake of the tragic suicide of 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi who was videotaped without his consent during a sexual encounter with another male.

A growing number of women in Ohio are pushing back and advocating for new legislation to criminalize the cowardly conduct of ex-intimate partners.

Teacher’s aide

A Cincinnati teacher’s aide resigned after semi-nude pictures of her surfaced on a website. “I think I stopped breathing for a while,” Hollie Toups told WBNS-TV in Columbus. “I was at a store one day and somebody was like, ‘Hey, you’re the girl from that website.’”

Toups’ joined with Holly Jacobs, a Florida Ph.D. candidate and victim of revenge porn, to start a support group for victims. Jacobs’ created “End Revenge Porn,” an online hub for victims and advocates to discuss revenge porn. According to the New York Observer, the site is one of the most prominent resource platforms for revenge porn victims.

Now is the time for Ohio lawmakers to step up and make revenge porn a crime and make the purveyors of explicit images of unsuspecting, nonconsenting victims pay the price civilly and criminally.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book, “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010,” was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino)

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