SACRAMENTO — Assemblyman Tom Lackey has introduced legislation that would make distribution of revenge porn a felony and increase the penalties for those convicted of it by requiring them to register as a sex offender.

“Distributing revenge porn is a sex crime. We need to start treating it like one,” said Lackey, the Palmdale Republican who serves as vice chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee. “The long-term consequences of this crime are devastating for victims. It’s time for California to send a message that victimizing someone by publishing intimate photos or videos without their consent cannot, and will not, be tolerated.”

A high-profile instance recently brought the issue to the forefront, when Rep. Katie Hill, D-Agua Dulce, resigned her Congressional seat in November after explicit photos of her were published on a conservative website amid allegations of a relationship with a staff member which triggered an ethics investigation.

Hill called the allegations and photos part of a revenge porn campaign against her by an abusive husband she was divorcing, aided by right-wing media and Republican opponents.

“It shows how widespread it is. It validates how real this problem really has become,” Lackey said.

“It’s a growing problem; it’s becoming more and more turned to,” he said. “I think we need something to try to thwart that trend.”

The legislation, AB 2065, would elevate the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony, which will increase the priority for such cases to be investigated by law enforcement. Given limited resources, misdemeanor offenses may not be pursued with the same vigor or even at all, Lackey said.

The proposed legislation would also make it a misdemeanor to threaten to distribute sexually explicit content with the intent to hurt someone’s reputation.

The proposed law helps to shift attention away from offenders to the victims.

“The victims here in this particular crime are not taken serious on many fronts and I think it’s a shame. Some of these women’s lives have become literally ruined, arguably in many instances for life,” Lackey said.

As a misdemeanor with little consequences or fear of investigation, there is no real disincentive to prevent offenders from engaging in revenge porn, he said.

The proposal may also raise issues of privacy versus First Amendment protections.

“I think that’s a healthy discussion to have,” Lackey said. “I don’t think the First Amendment protects the right of people to engage in criminal conduct.”

“This opens the dialogue and encourages the discussion that needs to be had, because right now it’s not being talked about,” he said.

The proposed legislation has yet to be assigned to a committee for hearing yet.

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