New Senate bill would allow victims to sue websites that host revenge porn, forced sexual acts

New Senate bill would allow victims to sue websites that host revenge porn, forced sexual acts
© Greg Nash

A group of bipartisan senators on Wednesday introduced legislation that would allow victims depicted in online "revenge porn" or in forced pornography to sue the websites hosting this content.

The Survivors of Human Trafficking Fight Back Act would allow victims of forced or coerced sexual acts, along with victims depicted in sexual imagery made public without their consent, to sue websites that knowingly host or distribute video or pictures of these acts.

It would also criminalize both the knowing distribution of media depicting these types of forced or coerced sexual acts and the knowing distribution of media depicting sexual acts as part of a “revenge porn” effort. 

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The bill is sponsored by Sens. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyBiden's push for unity collides with entrenched partisanship The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike The Memo: Culture war intensifies over school boards MORE (R-Mo.), Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanDemocratic incumbents bolster fundraising advantage in key Senate races Warnock raises .5 million in third quarter McConnell-aligned group targeting Kelly, Cortez Masto and Hassan with M ad campaign MORE (D-N.H.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstDemocrat Mike Franken launches challenge to Grassley in Iowa Trump heads to Iowa as 2024 chatter grows Photos of the Week: Manchin, California oil spill and a podium dog MORE (R-Iowa) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGOP rallies around Manchin, Sinema Advocates frustrated by shrinking legal migration under Biden Key debt-limit vote sparks major fight among Senate Republicans MORE (R-N.C.). 

The legislation was rolled out in the wake of a New York Times column published last week, which detailed allegations that the popular porn website Pornhub hosted videos that contained rape scenes, revenge porn and underaged sex. 

Hawley tweeted last week in reaction to the column that he planned to introduce the new legislation as a result of the reporting. 

"Sites like Pornhub routinely escape responsibility for facilitating abuse, trafficking, and exploitation, making millions for themselves in the process,” Hawley said in a statement on Wednesday. “Meanwhile, the victims of this abuse have little recourse against these powerful companies, who thrive on spreading depraved content. Serious criminal penalties are needed to crack down on these tech executives who think they are above the law."

Hassan said in a separate statement that "we shouldn’t have to pass a law to keep companies from profiting by sharing, without consent, intimate images. But we do.”

“The harm that these companies cause is extraordinary, lasts a lifetime, and should be unthinkable,” she added.

The legislation was introduced the day after Pornhub announced that it planned to immediately ban unverified content from being posted on its site and that it would prohibit users from downloading content in an effort to respond to the allegations brought against the site. 

Hawley tweeted Tuesday ahead of the bill’s introduction that “if true, then Pornhub has nothing to fear from my legislation allowing victims of fraud, coercion, and sex abuse to sue them.”

The bill could also potentially impact the ongoing debate around reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects social media platforms from being sued based on third party content posted on their sites. 

President TrumpDonald TrumpMcAuliffe takes tougher stance on Democrats in Washington Democrats troll Trump over Virginia governor's race Tom Glavine, Ric Flair, Doug Flutie to join Trump for Herschel Walker event MORE last week threatened to veto the pending 2021 National Defense Authorization Act if it did not include a repeal of Section 230. The House passed a conferenced version of the defense funding bill on Tuesday without the repeal, with the Senate set to vote on the legislation later this week.