TOPEKA – When Alicia and her husband divorced, she was stunned to learn that he had posted nude photos of her online without her consent.

Without any recognized legal protection, Alicia found herself in a difficult situation. All she could do initially, she said, was pay Internet providers to take the images down.

Alicia, who lives in Kansas, submitted written testimony to the Kansas House Monday, supporting legislation to outlaw “revenge porn,” the distribution of private photos or videos without an individual’s consent. 

“There was money attached to taking things down off the Internet,” Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, told the House Judiciary Committee Monday. Carlin, who has introduced legislation to ban revenge porn, spoke on behalf of Alicia, who was unable to attend the hearing.

“That’s a difficult situation for people, especially young women in college or someone who has no real means to pay off somebody,” she said.

Alicia ultimately had her images copyrighted, which incited removal, but not before she lost her job and had her reputation tarnished, Carlin said. (Alicia’s last name was not used in this story to protect her privacy.)

The dissemination of private and sexually-explicit media, taken with or without consent, is known as revenge porn. Due to advancements in media technology, revenge porn has increasingly become troublesome for citizens, who have no specific protection.

However, the House is now considering two bills that would offer protection. HB 2062 and HB 2080 would change Kansas statutes on blackmail and privacy, making it illegal to disseminate private videos or photographs with the proven intent to harm a person. HB 2080 also clarifies that revenge porn statutes only apply to those over 18 years old, because harsher penalties exist for those who disperse child pornography.

The state’s current blackmail and privacy statutes protect a person when pictures or videos are taken without consent. Proposed legislation would protect individuals who consented to photographs or videos but did not consent to their publication.

Carlin said she approached the committee last year about the legislation, and since then other states have created protections against revenge porn.

“This kind of thing has happened repeatedly throughout the country,” Carlin said. The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative reports it has helped 17 states pass revenge porn legislation.

The proposed legislation could also help protect domestic violence victims, Stephanie Bowman, an attorney from the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said during the testimony, supporting the bill.

“[HB 2080] would also help to remove a powerful tool domestic violence abusers and former intimate partner stalkers use to shame, humiliate and control their victims,” Bowman said.

At Monday’s hearing, the Kansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union provided written testimony outlining multiple concerns about the legislation. The ACLU argued the bills lack a newsworthy content clause. Without such a clause, the ACLU argued, the bill could violate First Amendment rights by preventing topics of public interest from becoming news.

Chair Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, said the committee will continue to discuss the bills this week.

— Edited by Samantha Harms

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