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Malden House delegation applauds passage of bill enhancing protections for survivors

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House unanimously passes bill addressing teen sexting, image-based sexual assault, and coercive control; extends statute of limitations for some domestic violence offenses


On January 10, 2024, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed (151-0) An Act to prevent abuse and exploitation (H.4241), a bill that includes several separate legislative initiatives that will help to prevent abuse and exploitation while also enhancing protections for survivors. The legislation addresses teen sexting and image-based sexual assault – commonly referred to as “revenge porn” – expands the definition of abuse to include coercive control for the purposes of obtaining a restraining order and extends the statute of limitations for certain domestic violence offenses from six years to 15 years. On January 11, the Senate referred the bill to its committee on Ways and Means.

Currently, minors who possess, purchase or share explicit photos of themselves or other minors are charged with violating Massachusetts child pornography laws and are required to register as sex offenders. H.4241 instead authorizes commitment to the Department of Youth Services (DYS), but also allows minors to be diverted to an educational program in lieu of criminal punishment. An educational diversion program that would be created by the Attorney General in consultation with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), DYS and the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association would provide teenagers with information about the legal and nonlegal consequences of sexting, which would be made available to school districts. DESE would also encourage districts to implement media literacy programs in their schools as a prevention measure.

Additionally, the bill addresses similar issues of nonconsensual distribution of explicit images with adults by establishing a penalty in existing criminal harassment statute, including up to two and a half years of prison time and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Under this bill, a victim may also petition the court for a harassment prevention order against an individual who has violated this statute. The bill has also added coercive control to the definition of abuse. Coercive control is defined as a nonphysical form of abuse which includes a pattern of behavior or a single act intended to threaten, intimidate, harass, isolate, control, coerce or compel compliance of a family or household member that causes the family or household member to fear physical harm or to have a reduced sense of physical safety or autonomy. Lastly, the bill seeks to extend 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 – bringing the statute of limitations for these domestic violence offenses in line with the statute of limitations for rape, assault with intent to commit rape, and sex trafficking.

“This bill takes a critical step forward by provided enhanced protections to survivors across the Commonwealth,” said State Representative Steve Ultrino (D-Malden). “For many survivors, their experience with abuse extends beyond just physical violence and this bill shows that we as a legislature are not only acknowledging their emotional and psychological trauma, but also taking concrete steps to ensure those all victims of abuse are protected. Thank you to the Speaker, Chairman Day and my House colleagues for championing this bill. I look forward to and urge the Senate to vote in support of this legislation.”

“This ever-so important legislation is vital in protecting survivors from abuse and exploitation,” said Representative Paul Donato (D-Medford). “I am proud of my colleagues for once again prioritizing this crucial legislation and I urge the Senate to take action and put this issue behind us.”

“I was proud to join a unanimous House in supporting H4241, An Act to prevent abuse and exploitation,” said State Representative Kate Lipper-Garabedian (D-Melrose). “This comprehensive bill is critical in supporting survivors and those experiencing domestic and sexual violence. Throughout my career, I have worked to ensure state laws are attuned to technological developments, including more than a decade ago when I worked as an attorney in private practice counseling states about the need for statutory updates to address teen sexting. This bill takes critical steps to protect victims of revenge porn and survivors of coercive control and to educate minors about the long-term dangers of certain digital behavior.”

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