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‘Revenge porn’ penalties set to become Michigan law

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Posting “revenge porn” online would be a crime under legislation heading to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder.

Bipartisan bills enrolled by the state Senate on Thursday after unanimous approval in both chambers would create fines and possible jail time for using a cellphone, computer or the web to disseminate sexually explicit images or video without consent from the subject.

If signed by the governor, the new law would apply to material distributed with the intent to threaten, coerce or intimidate.

Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said the bills address a “huge” problem for many high school kids, college students and divorced couples. He said he has talked to parents who had to transfer their children to new schools because of harassment over explicit images shared without their permission.

“Unfortunately, young people make mistakes,” he said. “With the new smartphones, they allow pictures to be taken, and people break up and they use it for revenge.”

Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, introduced similar legislation last session that passed the Senate but stalled in the House. Bieda said people around the state continued to contact him and share their own revenge porn stories.

“Talking with prosecutors, there’s really a gap in the law as to dealing with these situations,” Bieda said. “Twenty years ago, we wouldn’t have thought of anything such as sending photos or videos either through email or, more commonly today, cellphone.”

A first violation of the new statute would be a misdemeanor crime punishable by a fine of up to $500 and up to 93 days in jail. A second or subsequent offense could lead up to 1 year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.

“It’s going to add a little bit to the arsenal for prosecutors, and I think it’ll also put a message out there that this is not appropriate,” said Bieda. “I think that might have a chilling effect on people actually doing this to go after somebody if there are some sort of criminal penalties.”

At least 26 states and Washington, D.C., have similar laws against cyber-revenge, according to the House Fiscal Agency.

The Michigan bills faced little opposition in committee, beyond a request for modification from Media Coalition Inc., which argued an early draft could have infringed on the First Amendment right to public newsworthy material.

The bills include exemptions for news reporting and were amended to specify that violations must include harmful intent.

joosting@detroitnews.com

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