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State lawmaker targets revenge porn, seeking felony charge

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HB 2515 would outlaw distributing the following media of a sexual nature without consent of the individual pictured:

• Photographs

• Videotapes

• Films

• Digital recordings

• Any other reproduction of another person

PHOENIX – Some images are posted by angry exes, while others are circulated around schools. No matter how sexually explicit photos and videos make the rounds, one Arizona lawmaker wants to make so-called revenge porn a criminal offense.

“People have taken their lives because of the mortification that happens in these situations,” said Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, author of HB 2515.

The bill would make it a felony to knowingly distribute images showing a person who is nude or engaged in a sexual act without the written consent of the pictured individual. It carries harsher penalties if the individual is recognizable.

The House Judiciary Committee unanimously endorsed the bill Thursday, sending it to the House floor by way of the Rules Committee.

Will Gaona, system advocate at the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, told the committee that such images can be used by an abusive partner to trap a victim.

“Currently there’s few if any repercussions that people face for sharing these images,” he said. “We believe criminalization is both the most appropriate response and most effect deterrent for this behavior.”

California and New Jersey have both passed laws to fight revenge porn, and Utah lawmakers are considering a similar bill.

Rep. Lupe Chavira Contreras, D-Cashion, who voted for the bill, said he was concerned about how it would apply to minors who may not know better.

“There’s a lot of kids, high school kids, that are sexting,” he said.

Rebecca Baker, legislative liaison for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, noted that sexting by juveniles is a petty offense under state law. She said exempting juveniles from Mesnard’s bill could be a way to address those concerns.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, the committee’s chairman, questioned whether someone who has shared sexually explicit images of himself or herself is entitled to privacy.

“I think there’s some difficulty claiming you have a right to privacy because you sent it and it’s on the entire system,” he said.

“You can’t absolve someone of complete stupidity,” Farnsworth said.

Mesnard said not all sexually explicit photo exchanges occur between young people and questioned whether people would find sexting as inappropriate and stupid if it occurred between a married couple.

“I’m not sure we should be telling people what to do in a loving, healthy, possibly marital relationship,” he said.

“If we become a society where we’re so terrified of what someone might do when we trust them, that’s just sad,” he added.

Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa, said that he’s concerned about sending the message that while sexting is stupid a person who does so will be protected if the images find their way to unintended viewers.

“By protecting the conduct too much we actually enable it,” Pierce said.

Mesnard said it’s time for Arizona to send a message that taking revenge in such a manner is unacceptable.

“In all honesty, I wish this bill wasn’t necessary,” he said.