Monday, March 3, 2014
Pa. bill seeks to criminalize so-called revenge porn
Posted: Sunday, February 2, 2014
During their romance, a Middletown woman claimed her ex-boyfriend threatened to post nude photos of her if she ever broke up with him.
In 2011, Angelo Grecco Capria made good on that threat, sending an email containing compromising photos of the woman to nearly 400 people at Temple University. She learned about the mass email from a stranger who received it, according to court documents.
When the Chalfont man was arrested last year on arson charges for setting the ex’s family’s cars on fire, Middletown police also charged him with harassment for sending the photos. He was convicted last year and sentenced to 11½ to 23½ months in prison.
But under a bill being considered in the state Legislature, offenders could face as many as five years in prison for distributing so-called revenge porn. The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the proposal last week and it now heads to the full House.
Only New Jersey and California have laws that call for punishing people who distribute nude or sexually compromising images of adults, though other state legislatures are considering such bills. Pennsylvania’s proposed bill would also cover minors.
Under the Intimate Partner Harassment Law it would be illegal for intimate — or formerly intimate — partners to distribute photos, videos or similar recordings identifying another person who is naked or engaged in a sexual act without the person’s consent. The bill would not cover photos posted with the person’s consent.
The crime would be graded as a misdemeanor; it would carry a penalty of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine if the victim is a minor and up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine for adult victims, under the bill.
Bucks County Chief of Prosecution Matt Weintraub believes a coverage gap exists for adults who have sexually compromising photos distributed without their knowledge.
As a result, often prosecutors have to “shoehorn” charges into existing statutes, such as filing harassment, stalking or illegal use of the computer charges, which don’t quite fit the alleged conduct, Weintraub said.
“We do see more and more of it, obviously, with the explosion of social media everyone is connected all the time,” he added. “You can disseminate a photo in the blink of the eyes.”
But Fairless Hills criminal defense attorney Ron Elgart believes that a law outlawing posting of compromising photos of romantic partners is overkill.
Most people who voluntarily — “gleefully” as Elgart put it — let themselves be photographed or filmed naked or in sexual acts “just aren’t thinking very clearly and open themselves up to all sorts of mischief,” he said.
“Whatever happened to taking personal responsibility?” Elgart added. “To give our prosecutors and police more work to do over broken hearts, I don’t know that common sense is reigning here.”
Middletown criminal defense attorney Niels Ericksen understands that the privacy concerns regarding the distribution of private, intimate pictures, but said the proposed law is far too broad.
Under the current wording of the bill, Ericksen contends that a person could be charged with a misdemeanor if he or she were to show a naked photo of an intimate partner to another person. A better wording would specifically target the distribution of sexual images through the Internet, which is the crux of the push for the law, he added.
The bill also doesn’t address jurisdictional issues such as a compromising photo or video that is created out of state, but later posted in Pennsylvania, as well as issues involving consent, he said.
“It’s going to create a mess,” Ericksen said. “I feel sorry for the ones in the beginning who are going to get swooped up in this.”