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MN lawmakers, advocates look for ways to better address 'revenge porn'

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A collection of lawmakers, attorneys and advocates gathered in St. Paul Thursday to talk about one thing: how to criminalize so-called "revenge porn" in the state of Minnesota.

The "End Revenge Porn Working Group" was organized by state Rep. John Lesch, a Democrat from St. Paul, and prompted after a man accused of revenge porn – putting sexually explicit or nude images of someone online, without their consent – had his conviction reversed by a recent Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling.

It involved an Isanti County man who was accused of posting explicit solicitation ads using his girlfriend, and her teenage daughter, on Craigslist, the Ramsey County Law Library Blog explained. He admitted to doing it as retaliation.

But in May, the Court of Appeals said the statute he was tried under – criminal defamation – was too broad. And his conviction was overturned.

The meeting Thursday was "to discuss a way forward" following that ruling, the notice said.

Few paths for recourse

Lesch is also a prosecutor in the St. Paul City Attorney's office.

He told KSTP revenge porn cases have come through the office more frequently in recent years. But Minnesota law doesn't allow for much recourse due to a gray area of the defamation law, he said.

So the question becomes, how do you legally go after the person who posted the photos or video?

“This is a reprehensible crime which has far reaching impact on its victims and their loved ones,” Lesch said in a statement following the appeals court ruling.

A well-known YouTube video creator named Chrissy Chambers is one of the most outspoken activists regarding revenge porn. The Los Angeles-based performer has publicly spoken about her own experience – she says an ex-boyfriend filmed himself having sex with her without consent, while she was nearly unconscious, then posted the video online. It was shared to more than 30 pornography sites and viewed tens of thousands of times, she writes on her Change.org petition.

She spoke at the St. Paul meeting Thursday, telling lawmakers about the "unimaginable terror" it brought into her life, the Star Tribune reports.

But she and other victims of revenge porn have nowhere, legally, to go.

The hope of Lesch's working group is to craft a suitable legal remedy that can be used to to criminally charge people who do share revenge porn.

But there are lots of details to sort out, FOX 9 reports. Does intent matter, for example.

"The current draft is about making it a felony, so we want to make sure that law is carefully drawn and meets first amendment requirements," Lesch told the station.

More on revenge porn

About 23 states currently have laws specifically addressing revenge porn, according to EndRevengePorn.org. While it can happen to anyone, the group says 90 percent of those victimized with revenge porn are women.

The issue has been getting more attention in recent years.

Earlier this week, Google said it would no longer include revenge porn in its search in users' searches, the Guardian reported. The company is also making online forms available so people can ask that revenge porn content involving themselves be removed from Google results.

"Our philosophy has always been that Search should reflect the whole web. But revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims—predominantly women," said Amit Singhal, SVP of Google Search, in a blog post. "So going forward, we’ll honor requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results."

And last Sunday, HBO's John Oliver did a 16-minute segment on cyber bullying (note: strong language) in which he addresses the difficult of going after people who post revenge porn.

CNN Monday recently did a piece speaking with victims of revenge porn.

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