Thursday, Feb 22, 2018
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Bill would make 'revenge porn' a crime

COLUMBUS — Katelyn Bowden was shocked when a Facebook acquaintance alerted her that intimate pictures she had shared with her former boyfriend had popped up on the Internet.

The Youngstown woman faced another surprise when, after learning an acquaintance had stolen her ex-boyfriend’s phone to get those pictures, she discovered Ohio has no law to specifically prosecute so-called “revenge porn.”

“As waves of panic and shame crashed over me, I did a quick Google image search and found that my photos had been posted dozens of times on various websites,” Ms. Bowden said. “Thousands of people had seen my body. They’d seen my images, and many had written horrible things about me.”

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D., Boardman) is about to introduce a bill to specifically make it a crime to engage in revenge porn, the sharing and Internet posting of such images without the subject’s consent.

A violation would be a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,000. Some 38 states and the District of Columbia have passed some form of law in this area, Mr. Schiavoni said.

In Ms. Bowden’s case, she was told the only crime that had been committed was the phone theft.

“I was told in the state of Ohio a cell phone had more rights than me, a human being,” she said.

Sgt. Dan Kalk, an Aurora, Ohio, detective, noted the difficulties in trying to prosecute such cases under current law. Police try to use other crimes such as telecommunications harassment, also a first-degree misdemeanor, when applicable to try to make a case stick.

“What we find in revenge pornography is that, while every case is unique, there’s something very similar in each one of them, and that is the victim gets victimized a second time and sometimes a third time because of the system,” he said.

Sergeant Kalk said the bill should provide clarity on such issues as jurisdiction, specifically where the crime occurred, in cases where the victim could be in one location when learning of the violation, but the actual act of posting an image or video occurred elsewhere, and the website on which it appears is based in another state or country.

Mr. Schiavoni said every person in the chain of custody of that image might be subject to prosecution, even if they did not specifically know the victim and true “revenge” was not the motivation.

The bill would also provide an avenue toward civil action, protections for victims when employers learn of such images, and treatment and counseling resources to help victims deal with the aftermath.

Entire websites are dedicated to revenge porn, and in some cases, images’ subjects are charged fees to have them removed.

Ms. Bowden since has founded Battling Against Demeaning and Abusive Selfie Sharing, contacting other women found on such sites to join forces to have the images removed. She said it counts 650 members.

Contact Jim Provance at jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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