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PENNSYLVANIA LAWMAKERS SEEK EXPANSION OF "REVENGE PORN" LAW

Just over a year ago, Pennsylvania joined over 25 states in passing what is commonly known as "revenge porn" laws. Generally, these laws criminalize the dissemination of explicit photographs by former romantic partners. Now, with the Pennsylvania law on the books for less than a year, state lawmakers are considering expanding the law. The push for expansion is driven by the perceived need to criminalize the dissemination of any explicit photographs without the subject's consent without regard to whether or not the photographer and the victim were previously involved in a romantic relationship.

The Pennsylvania Revenge Porn Law went into effect on September 7th, 2014 and amends Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) and Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure). The Pennsylvania offense, entitled Unlawful Dissemination of Intimate Image, makes it a crime for someone to send explicit photos of a former romantic partner to others or post them online with the intent to harass, annoy or alarm the subject depicted in the photograph. These photos are commonly referred to by law enforcement as "non-consensual porn" or "revenge porn" by the general public. As the law currently stands, prosecution is limited to former intimate partners. Violators could be sentenced to two years in prison and fined $5,000 if the victim is an adult, or 5 years in prison with a $10,000 penalty if the victim is a minor (in addition crimes related to the dissemination of child pornography). Additionally, the law gives any victims the ability to recover damages in civil court. It is a defense to prosecution under the Pennsylvania statute that the defendant disseminated the photograph with the consent of the person depicted.

Critics of the current law would like to see it expanded to include criminalizing dissemination of explicit photographs whether or not the photographer and victim were former romantic partners.

Changes to the proposed law may have come as a result of events here in State College. In March of 2015, Penn State made national headlines when the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity was suspended after two Facebook pages were discovered containing photos of unconscious, naked females passed out and in sexual or embarrassing positions. The individuals in the photos seemed to be unaware that their pictures were being taken. When these events continued to garner national attention, many critics of the Pennsylvania "revenge porn" bill claimed that it did not go far enough to combat the dissemination of photos taken without consent. Mary Ann Franks, a professor who helped Pennsylvania draft the revenge porn bill, states "You're going to have lots of cases where the people involved don't actually know each other. They are not current or former sexual partners."

Proposed changes to the law come from Sen. Judith Schwank, a Democrat spearheading the legislative efforts to end revenge porn. Schwank expects the bill to receive broad support and is reviewing draft language with domestic violence organizations and the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. "I think it's been long enough now to consider the change that are necessary" says Sen. Schwank, who is also joined by Sen. Vincent Hughes in calls for an expanded law. In addition to potential changes to the Pennsylvania law, Congress is expected to consider a bill that would make revenge porn a federal crime.

Revenge porn is a complicated and often messy field, if you or a friend have been involved in any revenge porn charges, consider contacting the experience law firm of Rehmeyer & Allatt today to discuss your case.

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