Virginia bill to expand revenge porn law advances

A bill that cleared an early hurdle Wednesday in the Virginia House of Delegates would broaden the state’s revenge porn law by adding a new category of “sexual” images that would be unlawful to disseminate.

Democratic Del. Irene Shin, the bill’s sponsor, said the measure would build on the General Assembly’s previous work to protect victims from having their intimate images shared without their consent.

The issue of so-called revenge porn took center stage in state politics last year when the news media was alerted to sex videos livestreamed by Democratic House candidate Susanna Gibson and her husband.

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Gibson argues that the dissemination of those videos violated the state’s existing revenge porn law. She said Wednesday’s 8-0 subcommittee vote advancing the latest legislation to a full committee showed the General Assembly understands the “severity and the extent of the damage that is done to victims.”

The state’s current statute pertains to images of a person that depict them totally nude or in a state of undress with their genitals, pubic area, buttocks or breasts exposed. Shin’s bill would expand the law to cover images “sexual in nature” in which those body parts are not exposed. It does not define what constitutes “sexual in nature.”

The measure would also extend the statute of limitations for prosecution to 10 years from the date the victim discovers the offense. It currently stands at five years from the date the offense was committed.

The Virginia Capitol is seen across a body of water in Richmond, Virginia, on Feb. 9, 2019. A bill that would broaden the state’s revenge porn law is advancing through the Virginia House of Delegates. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“All too often, victims don’t even know that their personal images will have been disseminated,” Shin said.

The Virginia Victim Assistance Network backs the new legislation.

“Increasingly, relationships include consensually exchanging intimate images, which may later become fodder for humiliating cyberattacks,” said Catherine Ford, a lobbyist for the victims’ network.

Virginia’s current law makes it a crime to “maliciously” disseminate or sell nude or sexual images of another person with the intent to “coerce, harass, or intimidate.”

Gibson, who in a previous AP interview didn’t rule out another run for office, has said the disclosure of the sexual content she thought would only be livestreamed rather than preserved on video upended her personal life and led to harassment and death threats.

She did not drop out of the House race, but lost narrowly.

Later this week Gibson is set to officially announce the formation of a new political action committee to support candidates dedicated to addressing gender-based and sexual violence, including revenge porn issues.

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“These are crimes that can and do affect everyone, regardless of political party, age, race or class,” she said.

Gibson did not testify Wednesday to avoid becoming a “polarizing figure,” she said.

Asked for comment on the bill, Christian Martinez, a spokesperson for GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin, said only that the governor will review any legislation that comes to his desk.

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