Murt: Revenge porn laws might need to be strengthened

By State Rep. Tom Murt


Through recent advances in technology, individuals have the opportunity to easily document and distribute information about themselves, family members, loved ones and those within their social network. This accessibility to personal information is central to connectivity online, however, it can also cause great injury and even violate laws, when intimate details are posted without permission, or have a nefarious or criminal intent. Some unlawful distribution of nonconsensual image and video sharing can qualify as “revenge pornography.

‘Revenge pornography’ is defined as the practice of taking, posting and circulating personal or sexual photographs or videos of another person, without their consent, and putting them online or in another publication with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress. The dissemination of an intimate image with the intent to harass, alarm and annoy the person pictured has and can cause devastating impacts on the victim. Feelings of vulnerability, embarrassment, betrayal and physical threats of danger can occur. A victim can experience retaliation in their personal and professional lives if these images become accessible to members of the public.

The revenge pornography law in Pennsylvania (Act No. 115 of 2014), which I authored in 2014, is found in Section 3131 of the crimes code, and is referred to as the Unlawful Dissemination of Intimate Image. This law prohibits anyone from disseminating a visual depiction of a current or former sexual or intimate partner in a state of nudity or engaged in sexual conduct, without their consent, with the intent to harass, annoy or alarm that person. I drafted the law explicitly so that a person can be convicted of this offense if either the victim or offender is located within Pennsylvania. If a person who lives in California shares naked pictures of another person by texting them to a friend in Pennsylvania, he or she may be prosecuted in both California and Pennsylvania for violating their respective state laws.

An estimated one in 25 Americans have been a victim of revenge porn. Young adults have a higher risk of having their nude photos and sexually explicit images posted online without their permission. Both men and women can be the victims of revenge porn, however women are most commonly targeted. Women can often experience the repercussions of revenge porn after a relationship ends. It may also be possible for nonconsensual images to be leaked following the hacking of a computer or online account. When personal privacy is violated, it can alter an individual’s bodily integrity. Revenge porn is frequently used as a tactic of punishment to achieve retaliation against another person.

Revenge porn is a problem that occurs within our own communities and festers on the internet. Recently, U.S. Rep. Katie Hill, from California, resigned following the release of intimate images. Photos of the former congresswoman were spitefully leaked by her estranged husband – without her consent. Former Congresswoman Hill is the victim of revenge porn, since these photos were taken and transmitted as a means of intimidation to force her to leave her elected position and to expose details of her personal life. The images of Ms. Hill were posted and circulated without her permission, reflecting a violation of her privacy and personal life.

Revenge porn is not completely banned throughout the United States but it should be. Moreover, there are still states that still do not criminalize the activity at all, nor provide victims the opportunity to seek amends through civil court channels. Revenge porn is a toll of intimidation and manipulation of another person in their most vulnerable state. I remain determined to assist victims of revenge porn and to provide them opportunities to confront the wrongful actions of their perpetrator and rebuild their confidence following dissemination of private personal and images.

My colleagues and I will be further assessing Pennsylvania’s laws to ensure that our statutes in the commonwealth are as robust as they need to be to protect Pennsylvanians from the crime of revenge pornography and to bring justice to anyone who violates our relevant laws. ••

Murt represents the 152nd Legislative District, which includes portions of Bustleton and Eastern Montgomery County.