Illinois Senate passes ‘revenge porn’ bill

Bitter exes beware: a malicious way of getting back at your former significant other on the Internet could soon be a crime.

The Illinois Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday to criminalize “revenge porn”: sexually explicit photos or videos of another person posted to the Internet without consent.

The bill – which now heads to the House – makes revenge porn a felony and criminalizes the charging of fees in order to remove the images from a website. The maximum penalty would be three years in prison and a $25,000 fine, with judges having the discretion to impose lesser penalties.

Banning revenge porn under state law would punish what sponsoring Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Orland Hills, calls “harassment and the worst type of cyberbullying.”

A 2013 study by McAfee security software found 1 in 10 ex-partners have threatened that they would post intimate photos of their ex online and nearly 60 percent of those threats were carried out.

Revenge porn made headlines in January when Hunter Moore, founder of the now-defunct revenge porn website IsAnyoneUp.com, was federally indicted for allegedly hacking into victims’ email accounts to obtain the sexually explicit photographs featured on the website.

The toll revenge porn has on its victims should not be taken lightly, according to DePaul associate professor of counseling Melissa Ockerman.

“We often witness victims of (any form of) cyberbullying having lower self-esteem, increased anxiety and extreme embarrassment,” Ockerman said. “It has larger ramifications with its immediacy, widespread dissemination and public audience. Victims feel re-attacked the more people click on inappropriate content posted of them online.”

Opponents of the bill, such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, argue that banning revenge porn infringes on First Amendment freedom of speech rights. Chicago criminal defense lawyer and DePaul adjunct sociology professor Matt Fakhoury disagrees.

“People may argue (banning revenge porn is) a freedom of speech violation, but we regulate speech all the time such as how child porn is banned,” Fakhoury said. “It’s more of a privacy issue. When people break up, they lose the consent of their ex-partner. We criminalize harassment all the time, which includes cyber crimes.”

At least 14 other states currently have revenge porn-related bills pending, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Fakhoury is not surprised Illinois only recently began confronting the issue.

“(The issue of revenge porn) is an evolving issue we’re now having to deal with,” Fakhoury said. “It’s likely coming to the forefront recently due to technological changes.”

Ockerman shares a similar sentiment as to why revenge porn took this long to receive legal attention.

“I’m not surprised to see the law just starting to get involved,” Ockerman said. “The law is finally catching up with the times.”

While she believes offenders should face the consequences of their actions, Ockerman would like to see remediation efforts for offenders to better manage their personal issues.

“It all goes back to how ‘hurt people’ hurt people,” Ockerman said. “(Offenders) lack empathy and the means to control their impulse. (Remediation) would help them deal with conflict and prevent the problem from happening again.”