Many changes to the landscape of Texas laws went into effect on Sunday, two of which aimed to make cyberspace a safer place for those who believe they have been sexually mispresented or wronged.
Coming with the new laws and changes are alterations to the “revenge porn” law and a new law that protects people from receiving unwanted, sexually explicit photos.
Although the law has been in place for over four years, the state opened the door for people on the receiving end of the harassment to file charges against those who wronged them.
“It added terms that would make it easier to prosecute or charge somebody with that offense,” Seguin Police Department Public Information Officer Tanya Brown said. “Basically, the terminology allows them to say, ‘Hey, this embarrassed me,’ or ‘this was annoying,’ which are feelings, so no one can argue against that. So it looks like it was changed to make it easier for people to file charges on it based on emotions.”
The law is designed to protect those who have fallen victim to the public sharing of intimate visual material without their consent. This could be done by many different people, from an unruly ex-lover to a current partner, Brown said.
“We never condone people sending stuff like that to people,” Brown said. “I think with technology if somebody has a picture like this, or a video is circulating, you never know where it’s going to end up and these can end up causing long-term consequences, and obvious embarrassment. If it was shared online, that stuff’s there forever. So there’s no way really to control it, once it’s put out there on the web.”
The charge is a class A misdemeanor and, if found guilty, is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Another law that was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May makes it illegal for someone to send sexually explicit images to unwilling recipients.
The new law will make Texas one of the first states to take a stand against sending sexually explicit images, which about 40% of women report receiving without consent.
The law won’t apply just to texts, but also to what’s sent over other platforms like email, dating apps and social media.
The law that went into effect on Sunday makes the electronic transmission of sexually explicit material a class C misdemeanor, with a maximum $500 fine, when the recipient hasn’t provided consent.
Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, who authored the legislation, said as a father of three, he wanted to prevent a form of sexual harassment that previously went unchecked. The bill, he said, aims to close a gap in state law — indecent exposure is a crime in person, but not online.
“Quite frankly, the thought of someone doing that to one of my children scared me,” Meyer said. “There had to be some sort of deterrent to stop this from happening — and now there is.”
Meyer said representatives from Bumble, the mobile dating app headquartered in Austin, initially brought the idea of crafting legislation to him. During a May 13 Senate committee hearing, Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd testified in support of the legislation.
“Lately, it feels like men and women are being told that this increasingly common problem is really no big deal. Women in particular are expected to laugh this sort of thing off,” Herd testified. “But there’s nothing funny about it.”
The Texas Tribune contributed to this story. The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.