California’s Proposed Anti-“Revenge Porn” Bill Criticized For Not Going Far Enough

The State Assembly Committee on Public Safety decided against adding language to the bill that would outlaw distributing explicit photos or videos someone took of themselves.

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A California bill that would criminalize “revenge porn” is being criticized as ineffective at protecting people from exes who share suggestive and explicit photos and videos that were sent in confidence after a relationship has ended.

If passed, the bill would make distributing photos or videos of someone partially or completely undressed a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine as long as they were distributed “with the intent to cause serious emotional distress.” It does not, however, cover photos or videos someone took of themselves, which accounts for the majority of revenge porn cases, according to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

“We’re ecstatic to see legislators starting to take this issue seriously and get laws on the books, but the wording of the bill fails to protect the majority of victims,” said Holly Jacobs, founder of Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

Jacobs said her organization is suggesting revisions to the bill that would expand protection for people who took photos or videos of themselves. The group also expressed concern over language in the bill that requires proof of intent to cause “serious emotional distress.”

“Some of the posters of this material could potentially avoid liability by arguing that they did so to make money, gain notoriety, or share ‘conquests,’ as one victim describes it, rather than to cause ‘serious emotional distress,’” the group said in a press release.

Jeff Macedo, communications director for Sen. Athony Cannella, the bill’s sponsor, said his office is still working on the bill. “We want the bill to be stronger,” he said.

A representative for Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, chair of the Committee on Public Safety, said the committee decided against adding language to the bill that would include photos and videos someone took of themselves for First Amendment reasons. A spokesperson for the Committee on Public Safety did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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