Texas Moves to Outlaw ‘Revenge Porn’

The Texas House sent a clear message about cyber-exploitation by going after “revenge porn” with a 143-0 bipartisan vote to pass Senate Bill 1135 (SB 1135) on Tuesday, May 26.

Selfie society has led to an unbridled exhibitionism where lovers film and/or photograph their most sexual and naked of private moments. Then, when those relationships collapse custody of these compromising images are often in the hands of a vindictive ex-partner who plasters them across the internet. Cyber-victims are sometimes unknowingly filmed or photographed. Ninety percent of all victims are women, according to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

In March, the author’s bill, Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) said about the SB 1135, the legislation tackles the “disturbing trend of ex-partners posting nude, explicit photos of women online without consent and “seeking revenge or to cause harm.”

Victims’ images are commonly posted along with information such as their name, contact information, and links to their social media profiles. Additionally, “revenge porn websites” further prey on victims by charging fees to remove the sexually explicit images from websites.

SB 1135 will criminalize X-rated vengeance. Offenses would be considered Class A misdemeanors subject to up to one year in jail and/or a maximum fine of $4,000. Victims would also be able to sue offenders in civil court for monetary compensation.

Garcia issued a statement following SB 1135 passing out of the state House. She said, “I am thrilled to have passed this legislation to help victims get justice for the horrific practice of posting a nude or sexually explicit photo of the victims on the internet without their permission.”

She continued, “The disclosure of these types of images without consent can lead to harassment, stalking, threats, harm to reputation and job loss. Like other forms of sexual violence, this intolerable act of control can make victims feel powerless. I hope that this legislation can empower those that have been victimized and deter those that would victimize.”

Chris Kaiser of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault also has called revenge porn a form of sexual violence that can contribute to depression, panic attacks, problems with work and thoughts of suicide, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) were the main co-authors of the bill. Breitbart Texas reported that SB 1135 was one of two revenge porn bills that the Legislature juggled this session, ultimately passing this bill. The impetus behind Garcia’s bill was victim Hollie Toups and over a dozen over Texas women, who were horrified to discover nude photos of themselves online.

Revenge porn laws have brought closure to their victims and satisfaction to privacy advocates, however, some have opposed the idea of legislating a solution, even the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). They have expressed concern over the “delicate issue” between “protection of privacy and free speech rights which Breitbart Texas reported.

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

The House Research Organization (HRO) SB 1135 bill analysis also explained that criticism for cyber-exploitation legislation has arisen because of existing laws. For example,  Texas Penal Code 21.15 – Improper Photography or Visual Recording addresses issues such as privacy, emotional distress, and defamation, although, it is not revenge porn specific.

Last year, even without formal legislation, a Tarrant County cyber-perp got five years of probation in a plea deal that included psychological counseling and a $500 fine with a far worse sentence waiting if he violated the terms of the agreement.

The Spectator posed that one way to minimize the risk of becoming an accidental overnight porn star was to not pose for personal porn in the first place. That may curtail many incidents but will not aid those revenge porn victims who do not know they are being filmed or photographed.

SB 1135 is on its way to Governor Abbott’s office. Should he sign the bill into law, the Lone Star state will join these other states that have cyber-exploitation laws — California, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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