ACLU criticizes Missoula legislator’s ‘revenge porn’ bill as too harsh

State Rep. Marilyn Ryan, D-Missoula

(UM Legislative News Service) Montana would be the 42nd state to criminalize nonconsensual pornography if a bill introduced in the Montana Legislature becomes law.

Rep. Marilyn Ryan, D-Missoula, is sponsoring House Bill 192, which would make the distribution of sexual images of people without their consent a felony.

Missoula resident Kristine Hamill supported the bill during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday. She said her husband posted nude photos of her online without her permission for 12 years.

“I’ve had to change everything. I cut off my hair, dyed my hair a different color. I still look over my shoulder when men approach me. Even in stores, I panic. Because, I think, ‘Are they coming to me because they know what I look like naked?’ It’s affected my family,” Hamill said.

Hamill found out her husband was sending the photos in April 2018, and subsequently located her images on various porn websites. She contacted the Missoula City Police Department and left her home with her 11-year-old daughter, seeking refuge with friends and relatives.

According to court documents, Hamill filed a permanent restraining order against her ex-husband in May, which was granted, and recently was allowed to forensically review a laptop on which the images were stored and distributed. A review may uncover other deleted photos and remove ones on websites.

Hamill hopes to copyright her images, she said in an interview last year with the Missoula Current.

“The only way I’m going to be able to get those photos down off some of those sites, is to copyright them. They’ll always be out there, no matter if I get them off because people copy them,” she said. “Even if they change one little thing about the picture, like the size or the color, then it’s hard to find.”

However, because there is no law prohibiting the practice in Montana, Hamill’s former husband wasn’t charged with a crime. And because the photos were older than a year, he avoided even being charged with a misdemeanor, according to court documents.

S.K. Rossi, advocacy and policy director for the ACLU of Montana. (Tim Pierce/UM Legislative News Service)

At Monday’s hearing in the Capitol, the ACLU’s SK Rossi said while the ACLU agrees Montana needs a revenge porn law, the proposed bill is too harsh.

“I’m not opposed to there being a way to prosecute the people who do this,” Rossi said. “I’m just really adamant that we put some sideboards in there that make sure we’re protecting First Amendment rights and protecting defendant’s rights.”

A bill aimed at criminalizing revenge porn failed to pass the 2017 legislative session. While it moved through the House of Representatives, it failed to pass the final vote in the Senate by a vote of 0 to 50.

Kelsen Young with the Montana Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence said the bill failed because of amendments that wouldn’t protect people who took images of themselves and willingly sent them to partners.

“Even if someone originally consented to the image, we want to make sure those people are covered as well,” said Young.

The committee is scheduled to vote on HB 192 later this week.

Tim Pierce is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Greater Montana Foundation and the Montana Newspaper Association.

Missoula woman fights ex’s revenge porn, seeks state law