MADISON, Wis. — The state Assembly overwhelmingly passed a Republican proposal Tuesday that would outlaw the posting of revenge porn, moving Wisconsin closer to becoming the third state in the country to crack down on ex-lovers spreading nude pictures of each other.
Revenge porn refers to the practice of jilted lovers posting naked pictures of their ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends online in an effort to embarrass them or cost them a job.
California and New Jersey are the only states that currently criminalize such activity. An increasing number of states, including Wisconsin, Maryland and New York, are considering making it illegal. The breadth of the problem is unclear, because many victims never come forward or are frequently turned away by the police.
Under current Wisconsin law, anyone who possesses or distributes an image of a nude person captured without that person's consent faces a felony charge that carries a maximum sentence of $10,000 in fines and three-and-a-half years in prison.
The legislation approved Tuesday would make it a misdemeanor to disseminate a nude picture without the subject's consent, regardless of whether the subject granted permission to capture the image. The act would be punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and nine months in jail.
The bill's chief sponsor, John Spiros, R-Marshfield, told reporters before the Assembly voted he didn't know how widespread revenge porn is in Wisconsin, but he wants to stop it now.
"We're trying to head this off," Spiros said. "What this does is say, if you do that, it's a crime."
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, told reporters the bill is designed to make people think twice.
"It's not a good idea to send nude pictures of yourself to anybody ... but (people) shouldn't be the continuous victim of a crime," Vos said.
Debate on the measure was brief. Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, proposed an amendment that would have required prosecutors show a disseminator intended to cause the subject in the image embarrassment or humiliation. He said without such an intent clause, the bill would never survive a court challenge.
"If you don't have the intent, I don't think we're going to withstand constitutional scrutiny," he said. "We're dealing with the First Amendment."
The chamber voted to table the amendment 56-38. Republicans then passed the bill on a voice vote with Kessler the only member who could be clearly heard voting no.
The bill goes next to the state Senate. That chamber held its last floor session of the year on Tuesday and isn't scheduled to reconvene until January at the earliest. A spokesman for Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Republican senators haven't yet discussed the proposal.
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