New law would ban sending, posting nude photos without subject’s consent

Monitor staff
Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2016
A breakup can have long-lasting consequences, especially when a jilted ex-lover takes to the internet to post nude images of a former flame without permission.

It’s a practice known as “revenge porn.”

And now, as law enforcement reports a rise in these types of cases, a bipartisan group of legislators is seeking to make it a felony in New Hampshire to intentionally disseminate private sexual photos without the subject’s consent.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn is sponsoring the legislation that would criminalize so-called revenge porn, but also ban the sharing of images collected without the subject’s consent, through a hidden camera in a shower or a bedroom.

The bill closes a legal loophole, the Dalton Democrat said during a hearing before the senate judiciary committee Tuesday. More than two dozen states across the country have already enacted similar laws to crack down on these issues.

While some opponents argued Tuesday the legislation would carry too harsh a penalty, supporters applauded the bill, saying it would enable law enforcement to prosecute cases that can be extremely damaging to victims.

“Some of the photographs in some of the cases, as I am sure you are aware, are taken with the person’s knowledge, some of them are not. The ultimate impact is the same, the person’s privacy is violated,” said Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Woodcock, who cited one New Jersey case where a victim committed suicide.

The problem, officials said, is that state law doesn’t address people disseminating intimate photos that they don’t appear in.

Grafton County Attorney Lara Saffo told lawmakers she has dealt with scenarios where people had their private sexual images posted to Facebook or on the internet without their consent.

“We haven’t been able to respond to them in the way that we would feel appropriate and this new law would solve that problem,” Saffo said. “It also creates a new crime that is necessary with new technology . . . we constantly need to be thinking about how we fix these loopholes caused by the world wide web.”

The five-member senate committee will tweak the bill before sending it to the floor for a vote.

While some supporters suggested the bill be amended so that people who are convicted of the crime have to register with the state’s sex offender registry, opponents of the bill argued the penalty shouldn’t be so harsh, and suggested the crime be classified as a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

“We’re concerned this bill has the potential to put individuals behind bars for extended periods of time,” said Chris Dornin, founder of Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform – New Hampshire. “Does the state really want to fill up the prisons with foolish individuals who clicked on three images before hitting the send button?”

Others were critical of the legislation altogether, saying the issue is one of personal responsibility.

“If you don’t want your image to be distributed without your consent, don’t get naked in front of a camera,” said Ian Freeman, co-chair of the New Hampshire Liberty Party. “Once you consent to your naked body being photographed, it’s really going to be hard to keep that picture under control in this day and age.”

One woman shared her own story with lawmakers, recalling when she was painting an office with her colleagues when a coworker’s boyfriend secretly went through her cell phone, found “private photos” of her and sent them to himself.

She discovered what happened hours later, when she saw that photos had been sent from her phone to an unfamiliar number.

Despite going to the Concord police, she said her case was dismissed in court because no law on the books prevents the dissemination of such images. Police confirmed the incident.

“I was in college at the time, and my studies were suffering because of this ordeal,” a victim advocate read from the woman’s written testimony, as she sat by with tears in her eyes. “It is so easy for a predator to steal something that you thought was only for your soulmate.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307, amorris@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @amorrisNH.)