Advocates worry Ohio’s revenge porn law isn’t strong enough

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COLUMBUS, Ohio-- As Ohio Gov. John Kasich's administration was winding down at the end of 2018, he signed a bill making it a misdemeanor crime to knowingly distribute a private, sexually explicit image of a person without their consent.

The bill's origin started in early 2018 introduced first in the Ohio Senate by the State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a few weeks later a companion bill was introduced in the Ohio House by State Reps. John Rogers and Nathan Manning.

Both versions of the bill ended up in the Senate Judiciary Committee and were passed on the same day, Dec. 6, 2018. The Senate as a whole chose to pass both bills as well, but because the House Bill had already passed its chamber it went to the governor's desk while the Schiavoni's Senate Bill went back to the House where it no longer needed to be worked on.

Kasich signed the bill into law and it went into effect on March 22, 2019.

It makes a first offense a third-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine; a second offense is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine; and a third offense is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Advocates who worked with lawmakers to get this bill passed were thrilled when it was signed by Kasich and said its implementation has been both good and bad.

According to Katelyn Bowden, a leading advocate for the bill, said it is doing some good and can be a deterrent to some.

However, there have been struggles getting the law enforcement to acknowledge the bill or apply it properly, according to Bowden.

"It's the worst thing in the world to hear a victim say, 'Well I went to the police and they told me that this is definitely totally legal, that we have no revenge porn law," Bowden said. "We've put a lot of hours and work into this and to know that not a lot of people know it's there is very frustrating."

Another issue is in how the bill was ultimately written and agreed to. In order to charge someone with a crime, the law stated there must be intent to do harm. Proving someone's intention is not an easy thing to do in all cases.

"Yeah, to prove intent is very, very difficult," Schiavoni said. "I understood that when we passed (the bill), it was gonna be difficult, I still understand that that is a problem, but I know for sure that we're in a better position today then we were last year in protecting survivors that are dealing with this."

Finally, there is the issue that even a single offense puts the victim in a situation where their images can be online and circulating forever while a first time offender will typically get sentenced by the judge to timed served and a fine up to $500 in busy metropolitan areas because of the high volume of misdemeanor crimes they deal with daily and an effort not to overcrowd jails.

Schiavoni said there are pathways to make the law better.

"When I talked to (Senate) President Obhof about this bill, he said, 'Look, let's get this version through the Senate, we'll work on getting it through the House, and then we'll make improvements based on need moving forward,'" Schiavoni said.

Bowden and her organization Battling Against Demeaning and Abusive Selfie Sharing, or BADASS, is forging ahead at the federal level, working with others to get a bill passed in Washington D.C. that would fill in the gaps left by various state laws across the country.

"If you think we're just gonna sit around and just be happy with everything, um, no. We're always gonna try to do better and better until finally we can just completely outlaw image abuse," Bowden said.

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