Friedman Votes to Prevent Abuse and Exploitation Online 

Senate bill would criminalize dissemination of explicit photos without a subject’s permission 

BOSTON (3/21/2024)—Today, Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) and her colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed An Act to prevent abuse and exploitation, bipartisan legislation that would criminalize the sharing of sexually explicit images or videos without an individual’s consent and implement a comprehensive educational diversion program designed for adolescents on the consequences of posting indecent visual depictions online. 

The bill, S.2073, increases the allowable fine for unlawful distribution of indecent images, and rein in coercive control of abusers. 

“This legislation will finally place Massachusetts in line with almost every state in the nation and codifies protections for individuals from online exploitation,” said Senator Friedman, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “It is vital that we update our laws to reflect the realities of the digital age, especially to ensure better practices of handling these incidents in schools and among our youth.” 
The bill requires the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA) to develop and implement a comprehensive educational diversion program designed for adolescents on the consequences of sexting and posting indecent visuals online. It also requires the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to encourage school districts to implement instruction on age-appropriate media literacy skills and to use this content from the Office of the Child Advocate’s comprehensive educational diversion program. 

The bill defines coercive control as a single act or pattern of behavior intended to threaten, intimidate, control, or compel compliance of a family or household member that causes a fear of physical harm or a reduced sense of physical safety. It allows an individual to seek an abuse prevention order if the individual is the victim of coercive control by a family or household member or a person with whom they were in a substantive dating relationship. An amendment was adopted to allow a victim of coercive control to seek a harassment prevention order. Defining coercive control would raise awareness among the public and professionals, facilitating early intervention and prevention efforts to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable. 

The legislation also requires the diversion of a child alleged to be a juvenile delinquent for violating laws prohibiting the possession or dissemination of certain explicit visual material unless the court finds that failure to proceed with the arraignment would result in the substantial likelihood of serious harm to a member of the community. 

The allowable fine for criminal harassment would increase from $1,000 to $5,000, and a new criminal offense would be established for the unlawful distribution of certain visual material depicting another person who is nude, partially nude or engaged in sexual conduct without their consent. The bill also establishes a new juvenile offense for the unlawful possession or dissemination of certain explicit visual material. An amendment was adopted that would create a commission to examine and investigate the potential impacts and legal implications of advances in technology and the internet on the protection of individuals from harm, abuse and exploitation. 

This is the second time the Senate has passed a version of this legislation. A previous version of this bill having passed the House of Representatives, the two branches will now reconcile the differences between the bills before sending it to the Governor for her consideration.