Representative Haggerty supports bill to criminalize image-based sexual harassment and strengthen protections for survivors

BOSTON – The Massachusetts House and Senate have finalized comprehensive legislation that criminalizes the non-consensual sharing of explicit images or videos known as “revenge porn,”, statutorily defines coercive control as an element of domestic abuse, creates a diversion program for teens who share explicit images, and extends the statute of limitations to pursue criminal charges for certain domestic violence offenses from six years to 15 years.

State Representative Richard M. Haggerty (D-Woburn) was please to vote in support of House Bill 4744, An Act to prevent abuse and exploitation. Representative Haggerty was the lead sponsor of the Coercive Control section of the legislation and applauded its passage as a critical step forward in supporting victims and bringing abusers to justice.

“This important piece of legislation answers the urgent call of victims by strengthening protections, updating our laws to match the pace of technological advancements, and providing our prosecutors with additional tools to address these alarming and dangerous situations,” said Representative Haggerty. “In recognizing coercive control as a form of abuse and eliminating loopholes related to consent in revenge porn cases, this law protects individuals from the severe emotional harm too often inflicted through non-physical tactics, delivering a clear message that revenge porn, coercive control, and criminal harassment will not be tolerated in Massachusetts.”

The compromise bill introduces several measures aimed at preventing the non-consensual sharing of explicit visual content. In addition to making “revenge porn” a criminal offense punishable by up to 2 ½ years in prison or a $10,000 fine, the legislation also increases the fine for criminal harassment from $1,000 to $5,000. Furthermore, House Bill 4744 prohibits the use of computer-generated artificial intelligence (AI) to create deepfake revenge porn, addressing concerns about the misuse of emerging technologies in this context.

House Bill 4744 also amends the legal definition of “abuse” to encompass coercive control. This form of abuse is characterized by the perpetrator exerting excessive control over the victim’s daily life, including their communication, movements, behavior, and financial matters. Coercive control frequently involves isolating the victim from their support network and loved ones, as well as employing threats, intimidation tactics, and various methods of emotional abuse. By expanding the definition of abuse to include coercive control, victims of this type of abuse will now be eligible to seek protection through an abuse prevention order.

Additionally, the legislation introduces an educational diversion program aimed at minors involved in sexting. The program, which will be developed by the Attorney General’s office, allows district attorneys, law enforcement, and clerk magistrates to refer eligible minors to the program as an alternative to criminal charges. The primary goal of this diversion program is to provide a more appropriate response to minors who could otherwise face felony charges for possession of child pornography, while also educating them about the consequences of their actions. Furthermore, the bill encourages school districts to incorporate elements of the program into their curriculum to serve as an educational resource for students. The Office of the Child Advocate will conduct an annual review of the diversion program and the related curriculum to ensure their effectiveness.

The legislation also extends the statute of limitations for assault and battery on a family or household member or against someone with an active protective order from six years to 15 years. This change brings the statute of limitations for these domestic violence offenses in line with the statute of limitations for the crimes of rape, assault with intent to commit rape and sex trafficking.

House Bill 4744 represents a compromise reached by a six-member Conference Committee, which spent the last month working to reconcile the differences between two prior versions of the bill that had been approved by the House and Senate separately. On June 13, the bill was passed unanimously by the House with a vote of 151-0 and received approval from the Senate on the same day through a voice vote.

The legislation now awaits Governor Maura Healey’s review and signature.