Reading delegation supports bill to criminalize the unauthorized distribution of sexually explicit images, videos

BOSTON – The Massachusetts House and Senate have finalized legislation to close a loophole in state law and impose penalties for the unauthorized distribution of sexually explicit images or videos via text messaging and online postings.

House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading), State Representative Richard M. Haggerty (D-Woburn) and State Senator Jason M. Lewis (D-Winchester) voted to support House Bill 4744, An Act to prevent abuse and exploitation, which criminalizes so-called “revenge porn” by establishing penalties for disseminating explicit visual material of another person without their consent. The bill also expands the definition of abuse to include coercive control and assists survivors by extending the statute of limitations for certain domestic violence offenses, including assault and battery on a family or household member or for individuals with an active restraining order, from six years to 15 years.

House Bill 4744 represents a compromise reached by a six-member Conference Committee, which worked over the past month to resolve the difference between two earlier versions of the bill that had previously passed the House and Senate. The bill was enacted by the House on a vote of 151-0 on June 13 and by the Senate the same day on a voice vote. It is now before Governor Maura Healey for her review and signature.

“This legislation implements some welcome and long-overdue updates to state law to address changes in technology that have continued to be exploited at the expense of countless victims,” said Representative Jones. “The reforms contained in this bill will protect individuals from the unauthorized dissemination of sensitive images without their consent while also taking decisive steps to support survivors of domestic violence.”

“This important piece of legislation responds to the urgent call of victims by enhancing protections, modernizing our laws to keep pace with technology changes, and equipping our prosecutors with more tools to tackle these disturbing and dangerous situations,” said Representative Haggerty. “By defining coercive control as a form of abuse and closing revenge porn consent loopholes, this law protects against the severe emotional harm too often inflicted through non-physical tactics, sending a clear message that revenge porn, coercive control, and criminal harassment have no place in Massachusetts.”

“With the passage of this bill, the Legislature is taking decisive action to support survivors of abuse,” said Senator Lewis. “Not only are we finally banning image-based sexual abuse, including through deepfake AI images, but we are also explicitly labeling coercive control as abuse, expanding the statute of limitations on certain domestic violence offenses, and creating an educational program to support minors who engage in sexting. I hope that these efforts will serve to support survivors and hold abusers accountable.”

Under the compromise bill, several measures will be implemented to help prevent the sharing of explicit visual material without the consent of the individual being photographed or recorded. In addition to making “revenge porn” punishable by up to 2 ½ years in prison or a $10,000 fine, the bill increases the fine for criminal harassment from $1,000 to $5,000. Additionally, House Bill 4744 prevents the use of computer-generated artificial intelligence (AI) for the creation of deepfake revenge porn.

House Bill 4744 also amends the definition of “abuse” to include coercive control, which is defined as regulating and controlling communication, movements, daily behavior, and finances. This abuse often involves the isolation of victims from family or support systems, as well as threats, intimidation, and various forms of emotional abuse. Expanding this definition will allow victims of abuse to qualify for an abuse prevention order.

In addition, House Bill 4744 provides for an educational diversion program for minors who engage in sexting, which would be developed by the Attorney General’s office and would allow district attorneys, law enforcement, and clerk magistrates to refer a child, when appropriate, to the program. The purpose of this diversion program is to provide an alternative punishment for minors who could otherwise be charged with felony possession of child pornography and give them a better understanding of the consequences of their actions. The bill also encourages school districts to incorporate aspects of this program into their curriculum as a learning tool for students and requires an annual review of the program and curriculum by the Office of the Child Advocate.

Governor Healey has until June 23 to sign House Bill 4744 into law.