AUGUSTA — Maine could become one of more than a dozen states to criminalize revenge porn, a practice that has increased in prevalence and profile around the nation.

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers announced at the State House that they’re introducing legislation that would make it a Class D crime for websites to post revenge porn, a practice described in the legal world as the non-consensual dissemination of private sexual images. Such sites post intimate or nude photos and videos of people submitted by their former spouses or lovers. Advocates for domestic violence prevention said that the owners of the same websites often demand payment from victims before removing the images.

They said the effects of posting the images exceed public humiliation and can threaten careers or, for younger victims, entry into college.

“This is a despicable act that mostly targets women,” said Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, the bill’s lead sponsor. “In the states with no laws on the books for this disgusting act, the victims have nowhere to turn. This is not acceptable, nor should it be tolerated.”

Fredette stood beside a map Thursday littered with push-pins signifying Mainers, mostly women, whose names, photos or videos were posted on pornographic websites. There are more out there, he said, but his office ran out of pins.

The Maine State Police Computer Crimes Unit does not track instances of revenge porn because the practice isn’t currently illegal.

In other states, questions have surfaced over whether the person in the images agreed at the time to be photographed or videotaped. Proving consent was at the heart of a court challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union to a revenge porn law in Arizona. That law would have made the display and publication of nude or sexual images without the individual’s consent a felony, punishable by nearly four years in prison.

The ACLU argued that the law could have been applied to artistic images in books, art and news publications. The organization also argued that proving consent can be difficult. The issue has been less of a sticking point in states with strong privacy laws, including Alaska, New Jersey and Texas.

While 44 Maine lawmakers have signed on to the bill so far, Fredette said he expected there could be some opponents.

The ACLU of Maine said Thursday that it had not yet taken a position on the bill, but lawmakers should proceed cautiously.

“Our laws protecting women from sexual harassment, violence and extortion need to keep up with modern technology. However, efforts to do so should be carefully crafted so they don’t have unintended consequences,” said Oamshri Amarasingham, public policy counsel for ACLU of Maine.

Julia Colpits, executive director for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said the victims were sometimes young women “who are naive and don’t understand the limits of what is safe and never consented for private acts to be pushed out into the digital universe.”

“Unfortunately, users are often ahead of us slightly in attempting to intimidate and attempting coercion,” she added. “But we’re catching up.”

INCIDENTS IN MAINE

In 2010, the Portland Press Herald reported the experience of a South Portland woman whose ex-fiance had posted a suggestive photo and a classified ad inviting men to visit her for sex. She told the newspaper she was repeatedly harassed and described one encounter in a dark hallway in which a man approached her from behind and began caressing her back. She shoved the man down a flight of stairs before running away.

On Feb. 11, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a York County man had violated a protection order when he notified his former girlfriend that he had created a website on which he planned to post nude photographs of her, as well as a video-sharing website in her name.

According to court records, the man “said that he would be sharing the websites with her friends, that he had already gathered 18 or more email addresses from her work colleagues to share the websites with them, and that potential employers would see the websites as well.”

Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, a co-sponsor of the bill, told a similar story of a woman she met at a domestic violence event at the State House. Grant said the woman had been filmed by her husband, who threatened to put the videos on the Internet if his wife left him.

“Imagine someone betraying the trust of a loved one in such an intimate setting,” Grant said. “I was even more horrified to find out it wasn’t against the law.”

Cara Courchesne, the communications director for the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said revenge porn is chronically underreported. Courchesne said one victim in southern Maine told a domestic violence case worker that she moved out of her community, is in the process of changing her name and has developed severe anxiety since her boyfriend posted photos of her on the Internet.

“She has told the advocate that she’ll never be in a relationship again,” Courchesne said.

BANNED IN 13 STATES SO FAR

The push to criminalize revenge porn has surfaced in state legislatures across the country. Since 2013, at least 13 states have enacted laws that ban revenge porn, according to 2014 data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. And more laws are on the way. At least 13 others were introduced in 2014, while legislatures in Maine and elsewhere are rolling out proposals this year.

Federal legislation also is forthcoming.

U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, has said she plans to introduce a bill this spring that would create criminal penalties for people who operate revenge porn websites, while holding accountable those who upload the photos and videos.

Fredette said his bill would create a Class D crime for individuals who publish photographs, videotapes, films or digital recordings of another person in a state of nudity or engaged in a sexual act if the person has not consented. A Class D crime is punishable by up to a $2,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

While the Maine bill may do little to affect owners of revenge porn websites hosted outside the state, the individuals who run the sites could soon be in the cross hairs.

In January the Federal Trade Commission barred Craig Brittain, owner of isanybodydown.com, from publishing nude images of individuals without their consent. Brittain later demanded that Google remove links about the FTC ruling. Google has not complied with Brittain’s request.