You can thank women lawmakers for getting revenge porn laws passed

New York State Senate/YouTube

Freshman state Sen. Monica Martinez helped get the job done in New York.

On Thursday, New York’s newly elected attorney general, Letitia James, tweeted that New York state had finally passed a bill to criminalize revenge porn.

While the news is cause for celebration, 41 states, plus Washington D.C., New York City, and several New York counties, already have revenge porn laws on the books. Efforts to get revenge porn laws across New York state, however, have been stalled since as early as 2013.

So what took so long?

According to the New York Times, the bill has long been opposed by tech companies and business groups who did not want to be held accountable for unintentionally allowing the images and media in question on their platforms.

Then freshman state Sen. Monica R. Martinez arrived in Albany. In just a few months on the job, the progressive lawmaker from Long Island co-sponsored the bill and helped get it passed. Now, offenders sharing nonconsensual photos or videos not only have to remove the content, they can also be sentenced up to a year in jail; victims are also allowed to sue offenders. 

After the bill passed on Thursday, Martinez explained in an interview that she saw the devastating effects of revenge porn on children as young as 11 years old when she worked as a school administrator. She added, “It can have an effect on a 20-year-old, 30-year-old—it doesn’t matter the age or your sex/gender—and I think it’s important to protect our victims.”

Sen. Philip M. Boyle complimented Martinez on the victory. “Monica, you have done in about six weeks what it took me six years to do,” he said.

The bill had previously passed in the New York State Assembly in 2018 but died in a Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats took back the Senate in November, also helping to pave the way for this victory.

While New York’s legislation is coming late compared to other states, one part of the bill breaks new ground. The bill allows victims to file a court order directly against websites like YouTube, Google, or Facebook that would require them to take down the offensive content, or, in Google’s case, where Google might not host the content directly, to remove the offending images from its search results.

READ MORE:

Martinez’s victory could also be part of a promising pattern of what happens when more women come into power. Alabama, for example, passed its revenge porn law in 2017 under Gov. Kay Ivey. Mississippi’s revenge porn bill was authored by Republican Sen. Sally Doty. In Colorado, female lawmakers Dominique Jackson, a Democrat, and Terri Carver, a Republican, have worked together across partisan lines to close loopholes in their current revenge porn law.

A nationwide study conducted by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative in 2017 showed that as many as one in eight Americans have been affected by non-consensual pornography, and that women are 1.7 times more likely to be affected by such abuses. With a record 117 women elected into office in the 2018 midterms, we may see more and more legislation that protects women from various harms.

Could this be the beginning of sweeping revenge porn law reform, possibly even at the federal level? Time will tell. But New York’s recent victory suggests that women in office are getting the job done, and with remarkable speed.

Nayomi Reghay

Nayomi Reghay

Nayomi Reghay is a frequent contributor to the Daily Dot, covering body positivity, feminism, sex, relationships, and gender. She is also the author of the advice column “Swipe This!” A former New York Teaching Fellow, her writing has been featured in Reductress, Rolling Stone, Mic, Someecards, and more.