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Patrick Gannon: The price of seeking revenge

RALEIGH – The victims often are young women, with long lives and careers still ahead for them.

When nude or sexually explicit photographs or videos of them are posted online for all to see without their consent, it can jeopardize their personal and professional futures, if not their lives.

That’s why many states have criminalized “revenge porn,” or “involuntary porn,” when scorned lovers posts embarrassing photos or videos of ex-partners to get back at them.

In North Carolina recently, that was the subject of one of the most compelling debates on the floor of the state Senate so far this legislative session. The General Assembly is moving toward passing a revenge pornography law of its own. The House and Senate passed different versions of such a bill and it appears to be just a matter of time before they agree on details. The legislation would make it a crime to post such images with the “intent to coerce, harass, intimidate, demean, humiliate, or cause financial loss to the depicted person.”

The big debate in the Senate was over the proper punishment for revenge postings by people younger than 18. Should a first offense by someone under 18 be a felony or misdemeanor? During the Senate debate, Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Guilford County Democrat, proposed an amendment to make a first offense by a minor a Class 1 misdemeanor.

She and other senators argued that young people make stupid mistakes and that having a felony record could follow them throughout their lives, making it difficult to find work, vote or own guns (not that someone who maliciously posts such images should have a gun). Young people deserve a second chance, they said.

Arguments for less severe charges, however, can be turned on their heads. What about the victims? Other senators argued that one posting of nude or sexual acts on the Internet can destroy someone’s life and may remain online in perpetuity, causing ongoing harm.

“The victim doesn’t get a second chance,” argued Sen. Kathy Harrington, a Gastonia Republican. “The victim is victimized 24/7 for the rest of their life.”

Said Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Republican who represents Wake and Franklin: “I’d rather be shot in the leg than have a naked picture of me posted online.”

Sen. Bob Rucho, a Matthews Republican, said such postings could lead a victim to suicide.

But Robinson’s amendment passed, 28-15, with most senators agreeing that young people should be given second chances and shouldn’t be saddled with felonies for one dumb decision. The House still must agree. Second offenses for teens and all offenses by those 18 and older would still be felonies under the bill as it is written today.

In today’s society, revenge pornography is, unfortunately, probably here to stay. The question for lawmakers here and elsewhere is just how harshly to treat those who do it.

What’s wrong with giving prosecutors the discretion to charge young offenders with felonies if it fits the crime? That might serve as a deterrent for the next person who tries to destroy someone’s life.

Gannon writes for Capitol Press Association.

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