Montana Legislature passes Missoula-led measure criminalizing revenge porn

State Rep. Marilyn Ryan, D-Missoula

A revenge porn bill inspired by a Missoula woman’s story is on its way to Gov. Steve Bullock’s desk, criminalizing the distribution of revealing photographs or videos of a person without their consent.

House Bill 192 passed the Montana Senate on a 70-28 vote late last week, creating a misdemeanor offense. It had earlier passed the Montana House.

Missoula resident Kristine Hamill testified with other victims during the House and Senate judiciary committee hearings, explaining that her husband distributed nude photos of her without her consent or knowledge for 12 years.

She learned that he had been sending the photographs in April 2018, and located many others on porn websites. She contacted the Missoula Police Department and moved away with her 11-year-old daughter.

“It’s a very devastating crime and it doesn’t just devastate the victims but their entire families,” Hamill said in an interview with the Missoula Current.

Missoula Democratic Rep. Marilyn Ryan, who sponsored the bill, said the law will be a great first step toward changing the state’s lack of a revenge porn or image abuse law.

“It’ll be up to victims to come forward and the local police authority to come through and do their job, which I expect they’ll do because, talking to some police officers and county attorneys, their hands have been tied,” Ryan said. “This isn’t everything in the bill, but it’s a start and now they can take action. Before, there was nothing they could do.”

A person commits the crime “with the purpose to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass or injure and distributes a revealing or sexual photo of an identifiable person,” Ryan said. There are exceptions, but overall, the measure is good start to addressing the issue, she said.

Some amendments weakened the bill, Ryan said, compromises were needed for the bill to pass.

While the previous bill proposed that the crime be a felony for the first offense, the final bill imposes stackable offenses, meaning the first two offenses are misdemeanors, with either a fine, jail time or both. After that, it will be considered a felony.

The person in the photos must also be identifiable.

The Montana ACLU and some movie developers were nervous about the bill not protecting the First Amendment and potentially causing liability issues for distributed media. However, everyone was willing to compromise, Ryan said.

“There’s a real push to reduce felonies because too many people basically end up in jail for very small things. We didn’t consider this a small crime. It ruins people’s lives,” she said. “I’m hoping, in the future, somebody will take it up and make it stronger. But right now, we have at least something on the books.”

Hamill said she will still work to educate future generations about the dangers of photos and consent through Missoula public schools. Providing victims in Missoula with a local support group is another goal.

“That’s the major point. It is something, which is better than nothing,” Hamill said. “I swear, when (Ryan) called me to tell me that passed, it was the first time in a year that I felt at peace.”

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