Kris Coffield
Kris Coffield
Kris Coffield

By Kris Coffield —State House and Senate conference committee members passed a bill to ban revenge porn in Hawaii on April 24, sending a clear signal that Internet-based sexual harassment will not be tolerated in the islands.

Specifically, House Bill 1750 criminalizes distributing an image of another person in a nude condition or engaging in sexual conduct without the depicted person’s consent. In anticipation of the proposal’s passage, IMUAlliance, which co-drafted the bill, launched www.endrevengepornhawaii.com to spread awareness about the crime.

“As gadgets become smarter, smaller, and faster, acts of technological terror, like revenge porn, become more widespread,” said IMUAlliance legislative director Kris Coffield. “We must take a stand, today, to protect people’s personal privacy and right to dignity.”

“Revenge porn is the worst form of cyber-bullying, it is an online form of sexual exploitation and abuse,” said Cyber Civil Rights Initiative founder Holly Jacobs. “It leads to serious psychological conditions, gets victims fired from jobs, makes it difficult  to find jobs, and can wreak havoc on relationships with friends and family. Furthermore, the threat of revenge porn is often used as a means of controlling a victim’s behavior offline: forcing them to stay in an abusive relationship, to have sex against their will, to stay in the sex trade.”

A former revenge porn victim himself, Coffield has worked closely with advocacy organizations, including the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office and Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, to craft a measure that protects victims, provides a strong penalty for perpetrators, and respects free speech rights.

“Revenge porn is sexual assault,” said Coffield. “As the speed of electronics outpaces the scope of our legal system, we must be vigilant in providing justice for victims of cybercrime. Perhaps no cybercrime is more personally harmful than revenge porn, which jeopardizes a victim’s personal relationships, employment, emotional health, and safety. Justice demands that we hold people accountable for the consequences of their actions, which we’ve done by making revenge porn subject to imprisonment.”

“This behavior is not just heinous, it’s widespread,” said Jacobs. “At the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), we have heard from thousands of victims around the world, and the numbers continue to climb every day. The only way to stop it is to prevent it. The only way to prevent it, is to criminalize it.”

According to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, 1 in 10 ex-partners have threatened to expose risque photos of their ex online, with 60 percent of those who threaten to engage in revenge porn following through. Approximately 90 percent of revenge porn victims are women. Coffield notes that the law could also apply to sex-trafficking victims, who are often subjected to revenge porn as a means of psychological coercion.

“While the most common example of revenge porn involves brutish ex-lovers, this bill goes far beyond failed romances, hostile colleagues, and spiteful friends,” said Coffield. “Many sex-trafficking victims come from families that value honor and obedience, so vindictive pimps and johns use a revenge porn as a weapon to shame their victims into sexual slavery.”

“People, including sex-trafficking victims, approached us with stories of abuse, embarrassment, stalking, and coercion,” said Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery executive director Kathryn Xian. “Revenge porn is not only a new form of abuse, but a method of control and retaliation that needs an immediate legal deterrent.”

The bill is expected to pass final reading this month before heading to the governor’s desk.

IMUAlliance is a nonpartisan political action group devoted to protecting democratic ideals, eradicating socioeconomic inequality, advancing educational opportunity, and animating social critique.

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