BOSTON (3/21/2024)Today, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed An Act to prevent abuse and exploitation, legislation that would criminalize the sharing of sexually explicit images or videos without an individual’s consent and implement a comprehensive educational diversion program designed for adolescents on the consequences of posting indecent visual depictions online.

The bill, S.2073, increases the allowable fine for unlawful distribution of indecent images, and rein in coercive control of abusers.

“Today’s unanimous passage of the Act to prevent abuse and exploitation by the Senate highlights our commitment to safeguarding individuals from online harm. By criminalizing the dissemination of explicit images without consent and implementing educational programs, we’re taking proactive measures to protect our residents in the digital age,” said Senator Michael D. Brady (D-Brockton). “It’s imperative that we continue to adapt our laws to address emerging threats and provide necessary support to those affected.”

The bill requires the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) to develop and implement a comprehensive educational diversion program designed for adolescents on the consequences of sexting and posting indecent visuals online. It also requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to encourage school districts to implement instruction on age-appropriate media literacy skills and to use this content from the Office of the Child Advocate’s comprehensive educational diversion program.

The bill defines coercive control as a single act or pattern of behavior intended to threaten, intimidate, control, or compel compliance of a family or household member that causes a fear of physical harm or a reduced sense of physical safety. It allows an individual to seek an abuse prevention order if the individual is the victim of coercive control by a family or household member or a person with whom they were in a substantive dating relationship. An amendment was adopted to allow a victim of coercive control to seek a harassment prevention order. Defining coercive control would raise awareness among the public and professionals, facilitating early intervention and prevention efforts to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable.

The legislation also requires the diversion of a child alleged to be a juvenile delinquent for violating laws prohibiting the possession or dissemination of certain explicit visual material unless the court finds that failure to proceed with the arraignment would result in the substantial likelihood of serious harm to a member of the community.

The allowable fine for criminal harassment would increase from $1,000 to $5,000, and a new criminal offense would be established for the unlawful distribution of certain visual material depicting another person who is nude, partially nude or engaged in sexual conduct without their consent. The bill also establishes a new juvenile offense for the unlawful possession or dissemination of certain explicit visual material. An amendment was adopted that would create a commission to examine and investigate the potential impacts and legal implications of advances in technology and the internet on the protection of individuals from harm, abuse and exploitation.

The legislation has garnered support from supporters around the state.

“The passing of this legislation by the Senate today is an important milestone for all victims of online image-based sexual exploitation in Massachusetts. This bill cannot come soon enough,” said Deb Mann Schmill, Founder and President of the Becca Schmill Foundation. “While younger and younger children have been accessing the internet, and sexting has become normalized, online sexual exploitation has skyrocketed. The bill passed today, along with a commitment by our schools to provide digital and media literacy, will go a long way toward protecting children, and adults, from the devastating experience of online image-based sexual exploitation.”

“After many years of survivor testimonies, the Senate’s historic vote today led by Quincy’s Senator John Keenan, sends a clear message that survivors and victims of revenge porn deserve justice under the law to hold their abusers accountable. As a survivor of revenge porn, today I can breathe a little better knowing that Massachusetts is one major step closer to protecting victims of this heinous crime. To all my fellow survivors, your life matters. People love you. Your abuser will not determine your future. You control your own destiny. Every day is a chance for something great,” said Alex Hagerty, former Abington Selectman. “I am grateful I was able to be in the Senate chamber today with my dad, my hero, who saved my life when I fell victim, and witness the Senate vote to criminalize revenge porn in Massachusetts. Thank you to Senator Keenan for lifting up your voice to help raise the voices of victims of revenge porn. Massachusetts is one giant step closer to signing revenge porn laws into law.”

This is the second time the Senate has passed a version of this legislation. A previous version of this bill having passed the House of Representatives, the two branches will now reconcile the differences between the bills before sending it to the Governor for her consideration.