‘Revenge Porn’ Law Finally Passes in New York

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ALBANY — New York lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill to outlaw “revenge porn,” a practice that victims say can alter their lives as drastically as any other form of abuse, but from which there are few of the same protections.

The bill’s passage was long awaited, and for many victims, long overdue.

In an era of social media ubiquity and the permanence of the internet, revenge porn, the nonconsensual sharing of sexually explicit photos or videos, has emerged as an increasingly potent weapon. The images can follow victims for years, turning up when employers or romantic partners search for their names on the internet.

Forty-one states have already outlawed revenge porn, as have Washington, D.C., New York City and several counties, including Nassau County.

But in New York, victims told of years of helplessness. Prosecutors could not charge offenders for a practice that was not illegal, and judges turned down appeals for help on the grounds of free speech, even as other states moved to shore up protections.

“I went to the police, and they told me there was nothing they could do. I went to Family Court, and the judge there told me that I had a First Amendment problem,” said Carrie Goldberg, a victims’ rights lawyer who was in Albany for the bill’s passage.

She said she had started her firm after being the victim of revenge porn herself. Her harasser sent her emails containing explicit photos of herself and told her that he had blind copied her colleagues on the message, she said.

“My clients describe it as an inescapable nightmare, and it is,” Ms. Goldberg said.

In a sign of how quickly the landscape has changed, when New York’s bill was first introduced five years ago, it was a trailblazer; only a handful of other states had criminalized revenge porn. By the time the bill finally passed the State Legislature on Thursday, New York was a laggard.

Under the new state proposal, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said he supports, offenders could be punished by up to one year in jail.

The law would also allow victims to sue the person who had shared the revenge porn, which about a dozen other states permit. And it would be the first in the nation to allow judges to order websites or social media platforms — in addition to the original poster — to take down the photos or videos.

The push to end revenge porn comes amid twin movements across the country: growing acknowledgment of sexual harassment and abuse, and an emerging conversation about what government’s role should be in regulating social media.

While some of the highest-profile instances of sexual images as blackmail or revenge have involved the rich and famous — Jeff Bezos, Jennifer Lawrence and Rihanna for example — it has affected millions of people, from middle school students to Marines. As many as 10 million Americans have been victims of revenge porn, according to the Data and Society Research Institute, a think tank.

“Revenge porn is not infrequent, nor is it just a celebrity issue,” said Senator Monica R. Martinez, a Long Island Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors. “Our laws have yet to catch up with technology.”

The bill had passed the Democrat-dominated Assembly last year but was opposed by technology companies and business groups, which worried that they could be held liable for content shared on their platforms.

The proposal died in the Republican-controlled Senate. But Democrats won the Senate in November, paving the way for the bill’s passage.

The bill would follow federal law in granting social media platforms and other websites some immunity from financial liability, holding only the person who posted the media responsible. Websites would still be required to take down any material if ordered by a judge.

Minors would also be held responsible under the law, but they would appear before a Family Court judge, Ms. Martinez said. Some critics had worried that the law could send teenagers to jail.

Most major social media platforms already have policies in place around revenge porn. But the bill would add an extra layer of accountability, said Lindsey Song, a lawyer with Sanctuary for Families, a group that advocates for survivors of gender-based violence.

“Some of these major companies just have so much content,” she said. “Sometimes, unfortunately, victims of domestic violence and trafficking just don’t get to be a priority.”

On Thursday, the Internet Association, an industry group that represents tech giants including Google, Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, said it supported criminalizing revenge porn but still expressed concerns with the bill.

“While the industry continues to have reservations about the bill, it is important for New York State” to pass the bill “so that victims of these horrific actions will have the ability to hold bad actors to account,” John Olsen, the association’s director of state government affairs for the Northeast region, said in a statement.

The statement did not specify what those reservations were.

Ms. Goldberg celebrated the bill’s passage on Thursday, her voice often shaking, even as she lamented the years in which she and countless others had suffered from its delay.

“I’ve prepared to give this speech five times over five years,” she said at a news conference promoting the bill. “Sexual privacy is just a fundamental right.”

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