The Lead

Philly Democrat wants a $500 fine for sending nude photos without consent

By: - January 10, 2020 1:03 pm

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If a Philadelphia lawmaker has her way, young men better think twice before clicking send on their poorly lit sensual self-portraits.

On Friday, Democratic Rep. Mary Isacson held a House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on her proposal to criminalize sharing unsolicited nude images. 

The bill defines nudity as:

  •  “The showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic area or buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering.”
  • “The showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple.”
  • “The depiction of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state.”

“Despite the success of the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment remains a serious problem in our society,” Isaacson wrote in a memo seeking support for the proposal.

Isaacson told Billy Penn last year that the penalty would be misdemeanors with a maximum $500 fine.

As online dating and camera phones become more common, more and more people, particularly women, are reporting receiving revealing and often unsolicited self-portraits from men.

A 2017 YouGov study found that 53 percent of women between 18- and 34-years old have received a picture of a man’s manhood. 

Of the millennial women who said they had received an explicit text, more than three out of four said they’ve received one without asking.

The study also found that 34 percent of men between 18- and 34-years old had been asked to send a lewd photo, while 27 percent of men had sent one. A quarter  of those said they have sent an unsolicited photo.

Women were most likely to call an unsolicited nude “gross”, “stupid” and “sad.” Men also agreed with gross as number one descriptor, but the second most likely was “sexy.”

The dating app Bumble backs the bill. It has 1.8 million users in Pennsylvania according to prepared testimony  the company’s chief of staff, Caroline Ellis Roche.

Bumble lets women make the first move and start all conversations. Roche said their mission is to “encourage kindness, accountability, equality and respect across our platforms.”

The app also bans users who send unsolicited racy photos, and has developed technology to detect such images and warn users they are coming.

“We’re also calling on our peer companies to join Bumble in raising their standards, too, but tech companies can only do so much to curb this abhorrent behavior,” Roche said in her testimony provided to the Capital-Star. “We’re counting on our lawmakers to fill the gaps where our best efforts fall short.”

She argued that if indecent exposure is a crime in person, there’s no reason the same shouldn’t be laid out digitally. Bumble passed a similar bill in Texas targeting so-called “cyberflashing,” but faces legal questions.

However, there will be some opposition. Andy Hoover, a spokesman for the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an email that the proposal just repeats a common problem in the commonwealth — too many laws. 

A study released last by the group last year found that the number of criminal violations on the books over the past decade has nearly tripled, from 636 criminal offenses to more than 1,500.

The additional crimes means more power for prosecutors, the ACLU has argued.

“Legislators see a problem, and their only solution is to create a new crime,” Hoover said in a statement. “Lawmakers need to break their addiction to expanding the crimes code.”

The bill has 20 co-sponsors, including two Republicans.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.