AUGUSTA — A bill that makes it easier for a victim of “revenge porn” to more quickly get a protection from abuse order gained support Monday from range of organizations that help victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse.

The bill, LD 1487, is co-sponsored by Rep. Lori Fowle, D-Vassalboro, and Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport. Fowle is co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, and Fredette is the House minority leader.

In 2015, the Legislature passed a law making it illegal for an individual to electronically post “nonconsensual” pornographic videos or images of a spouse or partner.

But that legislation did not update the state’s definitions of domestic abuse to include the new crime, which made getting an immediate protection from abuse order, sometimes known as a restraining order, against an alleged violator more difficult.

According to Fowle, domestic abuse would include posting intimate images or videos of their victims in a state of nudity or engaged in sexual acts online without the victim’s consent. The motive of those who do is to exact revenge on former partners and spouses, who are usually women.

The new law change, as written by Fowle and Fredette, would close that loophole. The measure also sought to make it easier for judges to seal from public disclosure court files that contained copies or descriptions of the images or videos. 

But that change appears to be unnecessary as Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court Justices are already in the process of formulating an order that would allow lower court judges to seal those files at their discretion.

According to John Pelletier, a member of the Legislature’s Criminal Law Advisory Committee, there was some concern the Legislature would be overstepping its authority were it to pass a law directing the courts to always seal those files.

Pelletier and representatives from Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Pine Tree Legal Assistance, the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse, the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence all testified in favor of the bill.

Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, said he understood the reason behind the change and supported it but also asked, that given the nature of the Internet, how it was possible an image or video could ever be completely scrubbed from the Internet.

“It’s the frightening thing about the Web,” Francine Stark, the executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said. “Once it’s there, it’s there. It’s sticky.”

Fowle said the law change is meant to make sure victims can be better protected.

 “This is an extra layer of protection for victims,” she said. “The goal of the people who post these very private images is public humiliation, and this bill is one more way we can prevent that from happening.”

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