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Baker elevates ongoing effort to pass ‘revenge porn’ bill

Charlie Baker
In this June 18, 2021 file photo Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker speaks during a Juneteenth commemoration in Boston's Nubian Square.
Elise Amendola / AP

Gov. Charlie Baker's administration is stepping up its push for legislation that would provide new protections for survivors of violent crimes and the harmful distribution of explicit images commonly known as "revenge porn," one of the governor's top priorities as he prepares to exit office. Baker hosted a virtual roundtable Monday morning at UMass Law School in Dartmouth featuring survivors of sexual and domestic violence.

Baker and public safety officials listened as survivors testified, hoping to highlight their trauma and to expose legal loopholes. In emotional, gut-wrenching testimony, a woman who identified herself only as Kelsey explained how she was groomed and sexually abused as a child. Kelsey said her abuser was released from prison early for good behavior.

“He got a slap on the wrist for ruining my life,” she said. “I feel I was given a life sentence. My life has been plagued by a vicious cycle of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.”

Advocates say Baker’s bill would keep abusers in prison longer and would provide resources to victims and their families.

“As public officials, offering survivors — including children — basic rights and protections so that they feel safe and supported throughout the legal process should be our top priority,” Baker said before the testimony. “The current system is failing survivors and their families, and it is imperative that we deliver these commonsense measures on their behalf.”

At Monday’s hearing, Danielle Sicard, a mother of four children and a town clerk in Norton, Massachusetts, recounted how her husband of 20 years suddenly attacked her.

“Despite six years of marriage counseling, I had no idea I was in an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship,” she testified. “I find it hard to believe now in what I call ‘my post-abusive detox mind’ that I didn't realize that a man that could have drugged and raped me just six months before was also capable of trying to kill me.”

Sicard said, like most victims of domestic violence, she was endangered after she told her husband that she wanted a divorce. She said her husband attempted to snap her neck.

“My injuries were so severe [that] for three weeks you couldn’t see the whites of my eyes because they were filled with blood,” she said. “I will never forget the feeling of every blood vessel popping in my eyes.”

Sicard said she managed to obtain a restraining order, but suffered trauma after having to testify three times in court.

“Testifying in a dangerousness hearing in front of the person who tried to kill you and a defense attorney who is trying to break you down is no easy task,” she said, explaing that she testified while her injuries were still visible. “Each time I was filled with anxiety and fear of what the outcome would be.”

Ultimately, a superior court upheld the district court’s ruling that Sicard’s husband was still a danger to her and her children and he was held without bail. If passed, Baker and advocates say his bill would give more victims like Sicard the protection they need to recover and speak out.

Sicard said knowing that her abuser was in prison allowed her to begin healing.

“It gave me the courage that allowed me to move forward in the criminal process,” she said, advocating for the bill.

In addition to protections for survivors of sexual and domestic violence, the public safety proposal would fight so-called "revenge porn" — the third time that Baker has proposed such legislation. Under the governor’s bill, just threatening to release explicit images would be a felony punishable by a fine of up to $10,000, up to five years in state prison, or up to two and a half years in a house of correction.

Last month, the House Ways and Means Committee advanced its own bill that says a first offense would be a misdemeanor rather than a felony punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and or up to two and a half years in state prison. Only subsequent offenses would trigger harsher punishments, including up to 10 years in state prison and or a fine of up to $15,000.

In the past, Beacon Hill legislators have said the state’s existing laws provide adequate protections for victims.

After listening to the testimony, Baker said the personal stories should prove "as pure as day" current laws are not sufficient. The governor also apologized to survivors.

"State government let you down. There's no other way to put it,” Baker said. “State government let you down because we either didn't have the vision or the knowledge to understand."

“Unless we do something about this, people will have experiences that can only be described as horrific and tragic here in a state that claims to be so progressive and so interested in protecting those who need their help most,” Baker said.

  • Kirk Carapezza
    Kirk Carapezza @KirkCarapezza

    Kirk is the Managing Editor and Correspondent for higher education at GBH News. He takes the time to capture the distinct voices of students and faculty, administrators and thought leaders.

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