Bill to Enhance Survivor Protections and Prevent "Revenge Porn" signed into Law

JUNE 20, 2024

Last week, the House and Senate agreed to the Conference Committee report filed on H.4744An Act to prevent abuse and exploitation, which has now been signed into law by Governor Healey. This law seeks to prevent abuse and exploitation, strengthen protections for survivors, and enhance education for young people about the dangers of sexting and deepfakes.

“Domestic violence is not always physical, and our laws needed to be updated to make it clear that coercive control is a type of domestic abuse that will not be tolerated in Massachusetts. Additionally, extending the statute of limitations will also give survivors more time to build a safety net of support so they can come forward to report domestic abuse," Representative Mike Connolly said. "Furthermore, in the case of minors sending sexualy explicit text messages or direct messages, this bill strikes a good balance with diversion programs to educate kids about the consequences of their actions without more punitive measures. Thank you to Jane Doe, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center and so many survivors and advocates for pushing for this bill."

The law adds Massachusetts to the states that have acted to prohibit image-based sexual assault – sometimes referred to as “revenge porn,” which is the non-consensual sharing of explicit images. The law extends to “computer-generated images,” such as “deepfakes,” which have increasingly raised concerns. It will also expand the criminal harassment statute to prohibit the distribution of sexual images without consent and increase the maximum fines for criminal harassment convictions.

The law creates a diversion program for minors who share explicit images to teach them about the dangers of sexting. It allows minors charged with possessing or distributing nude images of other minors to be tried as juveniles in Juvenile Court, and it requires DESE to encourage school districts to implement age-appropriate instruction on media literacy skills for all grade levels.

The law also seeks to further protect survivors by expanding the definition of “abuse” under Chapter 209A to include “coercive control.” Coercive control is a pattern of behavior intended to threaten, intimidate, harass, isolate, control, coerce or compel compliance of a family or household member that causes fear or a reduce sense of physical safety or autonomy. Examples of coercive control are publishing sexually explicit images without consent or harming or threatening to harm a child or pet.

The law also makes the statute of limitations for certain domestic violence offenses equal to the statute of limitations for rape, assault with intent to commit rape and sex trafficking. It extends the statute of limitations for assault and battery on a family or household member or against someone with an active protective order from six years to 15 years.

This legislation is a significant step forward in recognizing the insidious nature of domestic and sexual violence and the various forms it can take beyond physical abuse.