After six days of getting treated by the media as a villain of sexual harassment, Joe Barton’s colleagues in Congress have begun an effort that should recast the Texas Republican as the victim of a crime. Democrats and Republicans in both chambers introduced legislation today that would extend criminal sanctions for “revenge porn,” the sharing of intimate photos without consent with the intent to damage reputations:

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation that would criminalize “revenge porn” after one of their own, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), had a nude image of himself shared without consent last week.

The legislation offered by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) would make the non-consensual circulation of private, graphic imagery a federal criminal offense. The sharing of “revenge porn,” already barred by law in more than 30 states and Washington D.C., made headlines last week when Barton apologized following the online circulation of a nude selfie. …

In order for the dissemination of the picture to qualify as a federal crime under the legislation introduced Tuesday, the individual involved in circulating the photo would have to be “aware of a substantial risk that the victim expected the image would remain private and that the sharing could cause harm to the victim.”

Richard Burr (R-SC) has also sponsored the Senate bill, while the House bill has Republicans such as Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney signing on for support. It’s too soon for the bills to show up on GovTrack, but the legislative text should be available shortly. Burr wants to advance this effort quickly to fill a gap in enforcement, one that Barton himself experienced:

“It’s time to update the law and ensure that individuals who maliciously exploit the private information and images of their victims are held accountable under criminal statute,” Burr said in a statement. “New technologies can make our lives better, but they also open a new platform for abuse and exploitation.”

Be sure to read Allahpundit’s review of Barton’s situation if you somehow missed this scandal in the Pervnado storm system. The short story: Barton, while separated from his wife and in the process of divorce, began seeing other women and sent one or more of them nude photos of himself. That’s pretty dumb, but it’s no more foolish than it is for other celebrities to take nude selfies and share them with dating partners with varying degrees of integrity. When Barton found out that the woman had shared the images, he warned her not to do so because of the risk it created for his career. The woman did so anyway, and Barton’s naked genitalia went public along with his warning that he didn’t consent to the release.

In any other situation, this would be a classic revenge-porn case. Thanks to the present (and largely self-inflicted) environment on Capitol Hill regarding sexual harassment, the Washington Post framed the story in that vein with Barton as its villain rather than its victim. E! News managed to get a story involving another Barton (no relation) much more accurately:

Mischa Barton’s ex-boyfriend has agreed to a five-year restraining order according to court documents obtained by E! News.

The documents require that both The O.C. star and Adam Spaw “shall stay 100 or more yards away from each other, their residences, pets, vehicles, and places of employment, and shall have no contact directly or indirectly with each other” through telephone, social media, texts and e-mails.

In addition, Adam has agreed “not to directly or indirectly, or through any agent, sell, distribute, show, give away or assign in any way any intimate photos or videos of Mischa Barton. He further agrees that he has not to date done so nor attempted to do any of the foregoing.”

In both Barton cases, the person depicted shared the images privately to another consenting and trusted adult without any consent for wider release. Both Bartons were victims, but the Post decided to flip the script on the Texas Republican in the House. (Spaw denies having any such images.)

The proposal to close the loop at the federal level makes sense given the interstate and international nature of the Internet, at least in theory. Wait for the actual text to see whether Congress has tailored this narrowly and appropriately, or bungled it with overbroad language that would infringe on legitimate speech. With figures like Gowdy on board, one can hope that the former will be the case, but we need to verify it’s not the latter.

In the meantime, the best advice to give anyone — but especially politicians — is to send candid pictures from around the bonfire rather than on the rug in front of the fireplace. Laws should be narrowly tailored, and so should elected officials.  One would have thought the Anthony Weiner saga would have taught Capitol Hill this lesson, but here we are …