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BILL TO CURTAIL THE NON-CONSENSUAL DISTRIBUTION OF SEXUALLY EXPLICIT IMAGES FORWARDED, LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES SHARES UPDATE

Published: Feb 14, 2024

ST. CROIX – The 35th Legislature’s Committee on Homeland Security, Justice, and Public Safety, chaired by Senator Kenneth L. Gittens, convened in a meeting at the Frits E. Lawaetz Conference Room. Lawmakers voted in the affirmative for a bill relating to the distribution of sexually graphic photographs and videos without consent. Separately, law enforcement officers and agencies shared an update on operations and initiatives. All approved items on the agenda will be forwarded to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

Senator Gittens cautioned young people not to take explicit photos of themselves and to share them with others. He said, “If someone loves you unconditionally, it is not necessary to videotape or take illicit photos to prove your love. Relationships are built on trust and communication.”

Bill No. 35-0182- An Act amending Title 14 of the Virgin Islands Code, Chapter 51, by designating the existing provisions as subchapter I and adding subchapter II relating to the non-consensual dissemination of sexually explicit images. In addition, the measure aims to impose a maximum $5,000 fine and a two-year jail sentence on a first-time offender. If someone commits a second offense, they might face a fine of up to $10,000 maximum punishment and five years in prison. Nevertheless, the Virgin Islands Police Department Assistant Commissioner Mario Brooks recommended that the suggested punishments for these infractions align with the existing classifications of crimes and offenses in the Territory. Other suggestions include confronting the advent of deepfake technology and holding all demographic groups accountable. 

The sponsor of the bill, Senator Donna Frett-Gregory, said that the legislation is a continuation of the work that began in the 34th Legislature. In the age of technology and instant connectivity, people are becoming victims of explicit photos of themselves that are maliciously shared across the globe with strangers. This is known as revenge porn. Consequently, the Family Resource Center Executive Director, Anya Stewart, mentioned that she assisted clients who faced the traumatic effects of non-consensual image sharing. Stewart indicated that the measure protects the privacy and dignity of victims who have been subjected to this form of abuse. As a result of this nonconsensual act, in some cases victims either committed suicide, relocated, or changed their identity.

On a different note, the Law Enforcement Officer Agencies shared an update. The Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (P.O.S.T.) Executive Director Gleston McIntosh stated that there are twenty-two agencies that have peace officer status with the authority to issue citations for traffic violations, conduct arrests, and enforce the laws. Additionally, P.O.S.T. offers peace officer training that is up to par with industry standards and grants certification and recertifications as necessary. The Department of Health Assistant Commissioner Reuben Malloy stated that in 2023, 127 cease and desist orders were issued to non-compliant businesses, 789 establishments were inspected, and enforcement officers issued 195 citations, for a combined total of $16,100. The Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs Assistant Commissioner Horace Graham indicated that the Enforcement Division conducted random compliance checks on 3,184 existing businesses, inspected 3,771 new businesses in response to new license applications, and issued 253 citations totaling $154,650 in compliance with the licensing laws of the Territory between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023. The Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) Director of the Enforcement Division Howard Forbes, Sr., indicated that officers enforced fisheries laws for 1910 hours and conducted marine patrols for 1918 hours in 2023. Additionally, DPNR Divisions served fifteen administrative orders and supported and assisted with fifteen inspections. The Virgin Islands Taxicab Commission Executive Director Vernice Gumbs mentioned that there were five taxi citations issued in total between FY 2022 and August 2023 and ten taxi citations have been issued overall from September 2023 until the present. Regarding initiatives, the Commission will commence recruitment to fill key positions to include the Chief of Enforcement.

Senators present at the committee meeting were Kenneth L. Gittens, Dwayne M. DeGraff, Ray Fonseca, Novelle E. Francis, Jr., Donna A. Frett-Gregory, Angel L. Bolques, Jr., Diane T. Capehart, Javan E. James, Sr., Alma Francis Heyliger, and Franklin D. Johnson.

The Division of Public Affairs is committed to providing accurate information about meetings and events at the Virgin Islands Legislature. Visit www.legvi.org.

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