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Nashville law students' research leads to Tennessee law change for 'revenge porn'

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Posted at 5:50 PM, Jun 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-30 20:16:02-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Three Nashville School of Law grads helped close a loophole in a state law that has prevented revenge porn cases from moving forward.

This change started years ago, with Doni Porteous's school project.

"We were asked to do what's called a rigorous writing project. We needed to do legal research," said Porteous.

At the time, Porteous said she was interning for the Davidson County District Attorney's office.

David Aguilera and Logan Elliot were two of her classmates.

"We graduated virtually in 2020. So, we were the COVID class," she said.

As an intern, Porteous helped the office with some of its legal problems.

Two revenge porn cases came across her desk in two days.

Both couldn't be prosecuted.

"The ease, the access. Everyone has a cell phone. Everyone makes poor decisions in a moment," said Porteous.

According to her, in one case, a picture of the victim's private body part was visible, but the person couldn't be visibly identified.

"The second one was a couple who had taken a picture of a sexual act," she said. "The female — her face was very visible. So, she's clearly identifiable in this photograph, but she was clothed. Again, she didn't fit the letter of the law, which requires the victim's intimate parts to be showing. There were no options for sexual activity to be covered in the law."

Both cases didn't fit the language of the "Unlawful Exposure" law which was passed in 2016.

So, the cases couldn't move forward.

Porteous made that her school research project and identified the weaknesses in the language in her paper.

"That was it. It was the end of the assignment. That stopped until David and I started talking at an event a year later," she said.

Aguilera has worked in the state legislature for nine years but didn't know of the research. When he found out, he brought it before his boss, Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, who also sponsored the original 2016 legislation.

"Clearly, what the intent of the legislature did in passing this was to protect people who might be the victims of revenge porn," said Sen. Yarbro. The way the language was drafted just didn't provide that protection."

Yarbro filed a bill to fix those loopholes.

Elliot works for Rep. Jason Powell, D-Nashville, who cosponsored the legislation in the house.

Together, the trio helped pass the state law with bipartisan support, they said.

"I was fortunate to be at the right place, at the right time to have these two problems hit that I could have that lightning bolt moment hit where I could say, 'We need to fix this for the people of Tennessee,'" said Porteous.

So, on this Friday, July 1, that loophole is closed.

Revenge porn offenses are a misdemeanor in Tennessee.

However, there are federal efforts to increase penalties even more.