Two lawmakers are pushing to outlaw revenge porn – the posting online of nude photographs of an ex-spouse or significant other without consent – in Kansas.
“Divorces are nasty,” said Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, who introduced HB 2062 to the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. “A lot of pain and a lot of anger and usually one person comes out a little better in financial settlements than the other and this is threatening. This is harassment.”
Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, plans to introduce a similar bill in the House Corrections Committee on Wednesday afternoon.
State statutes on privacy and blackmail make it a crime to post pictures or videos of a sexual nature taken without consent. The new bills seek to also forbid the posting of sexual material that was filmed or photographed consensually within the confines of a relationship but is then posted online later without consent.
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Carlin said a constituent brought up the issue.
“Her ex-husband had posted pictures of her in her home that he had taken while they were happily married and they were divorced and he had posted it to a site – and I believe it was called a revenge porn site – that you can go to and you can see pictures of people that they would not post,” Carlin said. “We are just asking that to be added to the statute to make that illegal in Kansas.”
Clayton called it “a new technological issue. ... This (bill) is designed to keep constituents safe.”
Sixteen states have laws against revenge porn, according to Mary Anne Franks, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, who also serves as legislative director for the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, which supports efforts to outlaw the practice.
Franks said that U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., would introduce federal legislation soon. The goal is to create a deterrent to prevent people from posting the images in the first place.
“What we’re seeing with the people who are targeted with this practice is that the impact on them is really devastating,” Franks said. “In addition to having something that intimate and private exposed to the world, there are all these other secondary effects like the loss of employment in many cases. The fact that everyone in your family circle, your friends, your kids, they can actually see these images now because that will be the first thing that will pop up when your name is in typed into a search engine.”
Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, said criminal law “is probably too blunt of an instrument to use on these types of issues.”
His organization is sympathetic to the privacy concerns, he said. But he added that lawmakers should tread carefully to ensure they don’t end up restricting free speech.
“In general we would be concerned, yes, about criminalizing forms of expression of any kind whether those are images or language. And I think there’s no question that there’s expression that is taking place in these incidents,” Kubic said.
Franks said free speech concerns had been raised in other states, but compared the posting of a nude photo without permission to posting someone’s Social Security number, which would not be protected by the First Amendment.
Clayton said that she had both female and male constituents who had been the victims of revenge porn. “This issue really is about what is consent and what isn’t,” she said.
Although photos may have been taken consensually, that does not give someone consent to post the material online for the entire world to see, Clayton said. She also noted that in abusive relationships a person may consent to being photographed naked under coercion.
Clayton is hopeful that the issue will get broad support in the Legislature. She noted that when she first floated the legislation last spring, some male colleagues were dismissive at first.
“I did have some colleagues say, well, just don’t share the pictures. Well, by that, just don’t tell your husband any secrets, just don’t be married or be in a relationship ever,” she said. “That’s not realistic.”