The Cautionary Instruction: Pennsylvania's 'Revenge-Porn' bill awaits governor's signature

Friday, 11 July 2014 06:00 AM Written by  Matt Mangino

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As part of a flurry of last-minute activity, state lawmakers have sent Governor Tom Corbett a bill that would outlaw so-called "revenge porn" in Pennsylvania.

On revenge porn sites, users upload X-rated photos of ex-lovers. I’m going to refer to the victims as women — occasionally men are victimized — but the victims are predominately women. The X-rated material is posted without the woman's permission. A woman sends a personal, intimate photograph to her boyfriend and when the relationship ends; her image is all over the internet, often with a name, location and links to her social media accounts.

Basically, revenge porn works like this:

1. Person A and Person B get married, date or hook up. They exchange or make intimate photographs and/or videos.

2. Person A and Person B stop getting along, and Person A gets angry.

3. Person A disseminates Person B’s private photographs or videos without consent — either to humiliate person B, or for profit, or both.

State Senator Judy Schwank a Democrat from Berks County, proposed the Senate’s version of the bill, saying that when it becomes law upon receiving Governor Corbett’s signature as expected, "persons who publicly post sexual images of their partners in order to annoy them or harm them will commit a crime that will have significant consequences."

She's not kidding: Violations of Pennsylvania's revenge-porn law will carry up to two years in state prison — or five years if the victim is a minor, which means that teenagers will need to be real clear about this law when they go through the emotional turmoil of their first break-up — and, like many crimes, will also come with the potential for financial damages in civil court.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, laws have been enacted in 10 states including Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. At least 27 other state legislatures are considering some measure to outlaw similar conduct. In New Jersey, 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.

California was ahead of the curve, passing a law in the fall of 2013 to prohibit the distribution of "intimate" images taken "with the intent to cause serious emotional distress." But some argue the law — which protects any images that were taken with the subject's consent if the distributor of the image is also the photographer — doesn’t go far enough.

(Image: matto353/iStock)


Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at www.mattmangino.com and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His new book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010: The Crimes, Arrests, Trials, Appeals, Last Meals, Final Words and Executions of 46 Persons in the United States is now available from McFarland & Company publishers.

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