Skip to main content Skip to office menu Skip to footer
Capital IconMinnesota Legislature

Criminalizing ‘revenge porn’ met with approval by House committee

Elizabeth Williams, of Prior Lake, provides the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee with emotional testimony March 29, about her experience as a victim of “revenge porn.” Photo by Paul Battaglia
Elizabeth Williams, of Prior Lake, provides the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee with emotional testimony March 29, about her experience as a victim of “revenge porn.” Photo by Paul Battaglia

It is not hard to find pornography on the Internet.

For some, it is even more shocking when previously unbeknownst to them their explicit pictures or private acts are there for the world to see. Such images are often posted by former romantic partners.

Elizabeth Williams is nearly living that nightmare.

Fighting back tears, she told the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee Tuesday that her former boyfriend of 1 1/2 years secretly filmed their first sexual encounter. She left the “abusive relationship” last fall, but was recently texted by her ex-boyfriend who threatened to share the video and destroy her life.

“If HF2741 passes, it will be the biggest relief and comfort knowing that I don’t have to live with the unknown and that I’m protected by the law,” she said.

Committee discussion of HF2741, the 'revenge porn' bill

Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) sponsors the bill that would prohibit the unauthorized distribution of sexual images. The crime would be primarily prosecuted as a gross misdemeanor; however, more serious action could result in felonious charges.

WATCH Committee discussion of the bill on YouTube

“I can’t even tell you how many victims there are throughout the state of Minnesota for whom this would be an important safeguard and relief,” he said.

Approved as amended, the bill was referred to the House Civil Law and Data Practices Committee. A companion, SF2713, sponsored by Sen. Barb Goodwin (DFL-Columbia Heights), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Further, the bill would provide a way for victims to file lawsuits against the person posting the images and would strengthen the state’s criminal defamation law.

Last year, in State v. Turner, the state appeals court struck down a criminal defamation law that had been used to prosecute “revenge porn” cases.

“This violation can have serious repercussions for a victim’s safety and well-being,” said Caroline Palmer, law and policy manager for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “If they’re in a relationship with someone they believe that they can trust them.”

Teresa Nelson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said her organization condemns the “reprehensible conduct” the bill seeks to regulate, but fears the proposal would not withstand a constitutional challenge.

WATCH Full video Tuesday's hearing on YouTube

“When a law punishes constitutionally protected speech based on its content, that law is presumptively invalid unless the government can show that the law passes strict scrutiny. They have to show that the law is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest that cannot be served through less restrictive means,” she said. “A law’s going to have the best chance of succeeding and being upheld if it focuses on invasion of privacy that are malicious and done with actual knowledge of the privacy invasion. I believe this bill does not do that.”

Lesch said there are examples of criminal acts where intent is not required, such as arson, which is a general-intent crime.

“You do not have a free-speech right to peer through someone’s window, take a naked picture of them and post it,” he said. “That is not free speech that would be upheld under strict scrutiny.”


Related Articles


Priority Dailies

Lawmakers return to St. Paul for 2024 session — what can Minnesotans expect?
House Speaker Melissa Hortman gavels out the 2023 Legislative Session May 22. (House Photography file photo) The DFL trifecta-led Legislature made myriad changes across a spectrum of state topics in 2023. Paid Family and Medical Leave. Abortion rights. Free breakfast and lunch for ...
Legislative leaders announce 2024 committee deadlines
(House Photography file photo) Legislators and the public officially know the timeline for getting bills through the House committee process during the upcoming 2024 session. Here are the two deadlines fo...

Minnesota House on Twitter