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Texas House Follows Senate, Criminalizes ‘Revenge Porn’

The Texas House gave its final nod to criminalize “revenge porn,” the compromising practice of posting sexually explicit and nude images by an ex-lover with the intention to humiliate a former sweetheart or spouse. The vote on Friday, May 15, was 128-1.

The advent of social media, smartphones, and other handheld tablet devices have given rise to uploading intimate photographs and videos often taken consensually in happier times but then later splashed over the internet after the love is gone by vengeful past partners. In some cases, the victim was unknowingly filmed or photographed. Either way, alleged perpetrators plaster those pictures onto the world wide web without the knowledge or consent of cyber-victims and purposefully seek revenge “to cause harm.”

The approved bill, HB 603, was authored by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) and is a tougher bill than Senate Bill 1135 that was passed earlier on in the ongoing legislative session. Davis’ bill would prosecute revenge porn as a Class A Misdemeanor that can result in up to a two-year prison sentence.

The Senate side bill was co-authored by Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), Joan Huffman (R-Houston), and Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo). It would criminalize X-rated revenge and allow victims to sue offenders in civil court for monetary compensation.

One bill will ultimately emerge that the Legislature moves forward. The impetus behind the Texas push for revenge porn legislation was victim Hollie Toups and over a dozen over Texas women, who were horrified to discover nude photos of themselves online, Breitbart Texas reported. Ninety percent of all victims are women, according to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

“The tougher the penalty the more likelihood the district attorney is going to take the case and pursue it,” Davis said, according to the Dallas Morning News. She also said it was time to bring the law in with the times to prevent actions that can be “devastating” to a victim’s life.

Although it is not a crime quite yet in Texas, a Tarrant County man, Philip Welch Ingram, got five years of probation in a revenge porn case last year in a plea deal that also included psychological counseling and a $500 fine. He also was barred from living in the county, from having contact with his ex-girlfriend or making obsessive phone calls to anyone. If he violated the terms of his probation, Ingram could be sentenced to up to two years in state prison and have to pay a $10,000 fine, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.  

Ingram hacked into his former lady-love’s email account and sent videos that he secretly filmed of them engaged in sexual acts. He sent these to her family and professional contacts. The case was believed to be the first of its kind reported to authorities in Tarrant County. 

Thirteen states have revenge porn laws. However, civil liberties groups have opposed this idea, citing free speech concerns. Last year, attorney Lee Rowland of the liberal-minded American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told National Public Radio (NPR) that revenge porn is a “delicate issue” on the tightrope between “protection of privacy and free speech rights.”

Even though revenge porn legislation has brought solace to privacy advocates and victims, it concerned Rowland that “revenge porn laws tend to criminalize the sharing of nude images that people lawfully own, she said. “That treads on very thin ice constitutionally.”

Likewise, Mark Bennett, vice president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, also opposes these revenge porn laws. “This statute creates an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech,” he previously said, which the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has held, time after time, that content-based restrictions on speech are presumptively invalid,” Bennett added.

Although society has turned to legislation to deal with the resulting horrors of non-consensual pornography, syndicated conservative talk show host Jerry Doyle offered up one common sense measure of prevention to knowingly avoid becoming a victim of revenge porn. “First of all – just don’t do it,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.

 

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