Revenge porn bill problematic

JORDYN F. BOCHON
Jordyn F. Bochon

Feminist activist Stephanie Guthrie has devoted much of her work to ending revenge pornography. Now, she's concerned about a private member's bill that could make spreading intimate images without the subject's consent illegal.

"Sexual crimes tend to be undercharged, underprosecuted, underconvicted," says the faculty member of Toronto's Academy of the Impossible. "[But] we can't just throw the rights of the accused out the window."

The bill, put forward by NDP Member of Parliament Robert Chisholm, was read in the House last Wednesday. It was a response to the death of Rehtaeh Parsons, who killed herself after allegedly being sexually assaulted and then having photos of her rape spread by her peers and classmates.

The proposed legislation fills a much-discussed gap in the criminal code. It would have already been illegal to share a sexualized likeness of Parsons under existing child pornography statutes. But for adult victims of revenge porn---where a sexual image is shared without consent, often for the purpose of humiliation or intimidation---there is little legal recourse.

Under the terms of the bill, if someone can't prove that he or she was permitted to share the image, then the intent in spreading the photo can be presumed malicious. "I'm happy that consent seems to be the crux of the legislation," Guthrie says. But she's concerned the bill steps on the constitutional presumption of innocence until a court rules otherwise. "I'd really like to see the issue of consent and the issue of malicious intent considered related, but separate."

Chisholm isn't too concerned: the bill can still be refined by parliamentary experts.

The Dartmouth-Cole Harbour Member of Parliament says he wants to "make sure people recognize that if they're going to continue with these types of actions...there's going to be consequences. It doesn't matter if you do it with your own hands or do it over the internet---you can't hide." Chisholm hopes his proposal will at least inspire similar legislation from the government when parliament reconvenes.

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