Representative Haggerty applauds House passage of Legislation to Prevent Abuse and Exploitation, Enhance Protections for Survivors

BOSTON – Wednesday, January 10, 2024 – State Representative Richard M. Haggerty (D-Woburn) was pleased to join his colleagues in the House of Representatives to unanimously pass House Bill 4241, ‘An Act to prevent abuse and exploitation,’ an important piece of legislation that aims to prevent abuse and exploitation, while also enhancing protections for survivors. Representative Haggerty was proud to be a lead sponsor of the Coercive Control section of this legislation and applauded its passage as a critical step forward in supporting victims and bringing abusers to justice.

“Protecting victims is the driving force behind these efforts and I am pleased we are giving prosecutors more tools to deal with these disturbing and dangerous situations. Thank you to Speaker Mariano, Chair Michlewitz, Chair Day, and the advocacy groups who recognize how important it is that we further protect victims by updating our criminal laws,” said Representative Haggerty.

Key provisions of the bill include:

· Teen Sexting: Minors involved in sexting will now be diverted to an educational program in lieu of criminal punishment. A district attorney, however, is allowed to petition the court to bring criminal charges in extreme cases;

· Image-Based Sexual Assault: Nonconsensual distribution of explicit images by adults will be penalized in the existing criminal harassment statute, including up to two and a half years of prison time and/or a monetary fine of up to $10,000. There will be an increase in the upper limit of the fine for criminal harassment from $1,000 to $5,000. In addition, a victim may also petition the court for a harassment prevention order against a person who has violated this statute;

· Coercive Control: The definition of abuse will now encompass coercive control. Coercive control is a nonphysical form of abuse that includes a pattern of behavior, or a single act intended to threaten, intimidate, harass, isolate, control, coerce, or compel compliance of a family or household member that causes the family or household member to fear physical harm or to have a reduced sense of physical safety or autonomy; and

· Extends Statute of Limitation: Extends the statute of limitations for assault and battery on a family or household member or against someone with an active protective order from 6 years to 15 years bringing it in line with the statute of limitations for rape, assault with intent to commit rape and sex trafficking.

“By defining coercive control as 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,” said Representative Haggerty. “As technology changes, we must modernize our approach to keeping people safe and have laws on the books that reflect the rapidly changing times in which we all live.”

“The House has heard the urgent call of survivors to enhance protections and ensure that our laws keep up with technology. But the House doesn’t just listen, we act,” said Representative Michael S. Day (D-Stoneham), House Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. “It’s critical that these reforms pass into law quickly so that victims of coercive control, adolescent sexting and revenge porn aren’t left without relief.”

Having passed the House of Representatives, “An Act to prevent abuse and exploitation” now goes to the Senate for their consideration.