Newswise — Delegate Jon S. Cardin will introduce a law to criminalize cyber sexual harassment -- the non-consensual release of explicit images or videos over the Internet, in the 2014 Legislative Session.
“We live in a rapidly changing world, and we need to recognize that vindictive people do not only torment through harassing phone calls or stalking any longer — they’re releasing privately shared and sexually explicit pictures onto public websites specifically designed for vengeful purposes or to humiliate their exes,” Cardin said. “Whether or not the decision to send that graphic image was a good choice in the first place is not the issue. The bottom line is that no one deserves to be treated this way and therefore, predators should not have the right to use the Internet to ruin someone else’s life.”
The bill makes it a felony to intentionally disclose in a public way, using the Internet or otherwise, a sexually explicit image of another person without their consent to release that image. The crime is punishable by up to five years in prison or a $25,000 fine, or both. If passed, Maryland would lead other states; New Jersey has an invasion-of-privacy law that treats this type of behavior as a crime, while in California it is a misdemeanor.
“This bill is a huge step forward for the protection of privacy, especially for individuals who consensually shared personal photos during a relationship of trust and whose trust was breached,” said Danielle Keats Citron, professor of law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, and an internationally-recognized expert in privacy law who participated in the crafting of the bill. “Criminal law should have a role in deterring and punishing revenge porn because revenge porn and its ilk raise the risk of offline stalking and physical attack. Fear can be profound. Victims don't feel safe leaving their homes.”
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 850,000 people in 2006 experienced some form online stalking with a ‘significant’ online component.
“This law will allow our law enforcement officials to stay one step ahead — to intervene in non-consensual pornography before anyone is forced to carry the emotional scars of sexual harassment for the rest of their life. It’s a critical step towards protecting our citizens from online bullies and predators,” Cardin said. “Like Grace’s Law, this bill sends a strong message that words and actions on the internet are meaningful, and we will go after sexual predators wherever they exist — in the bedroom or on the Internet.”
Added Citron: “Revenge porn is a harmful form of bigotry and sexual harassment. It exposes victims' sexuality in humiliating ways. Their naked photos appear on slut shaming sites. Once their naked images are exposed, anonymous strangers send e-mail messages that threaten rape or worse.”
The personal and professional consequences of revenge porn can be acute. “For months after I discovered that nude pictures of me and my personal identification were posted on the Internet, I was afraid to leave my house,” said Annmarie Chiarini, a Victim Advocate for the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a non-profit organization that raises awareness about online harassment. “My job was in jeopardy, and my health deteriorated. I reached out to law enforcement officials for help and was told no crime had been committed. It was dehumanizing. But rather than hiding in shame, I am choosing to speak out and see the laws in Maryland and other states changed, so victims have prosecuting power and their civil rights are protected.”
UM Carey Law faculty members frequently lend their legal expertise to assist in drafting legislation that benefits all Marylanders, noted Phoebe A. Haddon, JD, LLM, dean of the UM Carey School of Law. “As Maryland’s public law school, we are proud to assist elected officials of all political persuasions across a wide range of policy issues,” she added.
This press conference will take place at 10:30 am in suite 200 of the UM Carey School of Law, 500 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, 21201.