After passing the General Assembly last session only to be wrongfully vetoed, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today announced his intention to refile his legislation that would prohibit the posting of "revenge porn" without the consent of the individual in the images and create criminal penalties for those who engage in "sextortion."
Revenge porn is sexually explicit media that is publicly shared online without the consent of the pictured individual. Revenge porn is uploaded by former lovers or hackers for the purpose of humiliation and exploitation. The images or videos are often accompanied by personal information, including the pictured individual's full name and links to their social media profiles.
Passage of the Act would make Rhode Island the 35th state to have laws addressing the issue, and is supported by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting civil liberties online.
"Individuals who are victims of revenge porn and sextortion are violated in one of the most intimate ways possible, and are often physically and financially exploited, while the abusers face no legal consequences for their depraved actions," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "Telling a victim, or the parent of a victim, that there is nothing we can do to hold the perpetrator accountable because there is no adequate law in place, is a failure of our criminal justice system and a failure of leadership by those who blocked passage of the legislation."
"Our local law enforcement partners have had to turn away real victims of these crimes because there are no applicable laws to address this issue, including one women whose ex-boyfriend sent revealing photos to her employer as revenge for her breaking things off and another woman whose estranged husband posted revealing photos on various social media site while the couple was going through a divorce. We believe there to be many more similar, and worse, cases, but they are often not brought to our attention as police departments know that in most circumstances charges cannot be filed," added Kilmartin.
"This legislation protects victims who are being exploited, harassed, and stalked by individuals who willfully and intentionally post intimate photos and videos to exact revenge or cause humiliation. Revenge porn is a real crime with real victims, and the legislation addresses this problem without infringing on anyone's First Amendment rights."
The legislation would prohibit unauthorized distribution of private, sexually explicit photos and videos, and only applies to those who intentionally distribute those images that were created under circumstances intended to remain private and that were distributed for no legitimate purpose. A first offense is a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, subject to imprisonment of up to one year, a fine of $1,000, or both. Second and subsequent offenses are a felony and, upon conviction, subject to not more than three years imprisonment, a fine of not more than $3,000, or both.
The legislation explicitly exempts material that relates to a matter of public concern; it also explicitly exempts when dissemination of such serves a lawful purposes; when the dissemination is made in the course of a lawful public proceeding; when the dissemination involves voluntary nudity or sexual conduct in public or commercial settings or in a place where a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy; and when the dissemination is made in the public interest, including the reporting of unlawful conduct, or lawful and common practice of law enforcement, criminal reporting, corrections, legal proceedings, medical activities, scientific activities, or educational activities.
This will be the seventh year that Attorney General Kilmartin has filed such legislation, which has been carefully and thoroughly reviewed by the Office's criminal, civil, and appellate divisions to ensure it is constitutional, does not violate the privacy of individuals, and does not disrupt the First Amendment.
The legislation also creates criminal penalties for those who engage in "sextortion," a relatively new and very disturbing cybercrime that occurs when offenders use personal images – often stolen or obtained by hacking – to force victims to engage in sending more sexually explicit photos or videos under threat the images will be made public. In addition, victims are often extorted into paying money or providing personal identifying information for the images not to be posted or revealed to others.
According to a study by the Brookings Institute, 71 percent of sextortion cases involve victims under the age of 18, and that while nearly all adult victims are female, both minor girls and boys are targeted.
Under the legislation, those who threaten to disclose a visual image or make a threat to obtain a benefit in return for not disclosing a visual image would be, upon conviction, guilty of a felony and subject to a five-year sentence. Those convicted of demanding a payment for removing a visual image would be guilty of a felony and subject to up five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000 or both.
"As reprehensible as it is to post private, very personal photos of someone out of revenge, extorting people – primarily young adults – into sending more inappropriate photos or demanding money to keep the photos out of the public realm takes depravity to a new low. Victims of sextortion need to know that they can turn to law enforcement to stop the perpetrators, and as prosecutors, we need the tools to hold these sexual predators accountable," added Kilmartin.