When Ling Ling Chang of Diamond Bar, California, was elected to the California State Senate last summer, she gave out her phone number, thinking it would be a great way to get direct feedback from constituents.
Comments poured in, but so did something else: a dirty pic from a man she had never met.
“That was a form of harassment no one should have to experience,” the Republican senator told HuffPost. “You can’t expose yourself in public, and it shouldn’t be done online without consent.”
The experience ― and hearing similar stories from women in her district ― motivated Chang to draw up a law that would outlaw sending unsolicited nude photos, whether it’s on a dating app, messenger or even via AirDrop. (In online forums, there’s no shortage of stories from women who have had dirty pics sent via AirDrop to them by strangers on subways and in other public places.)
When Chang introduces the bill to the California State Senate in January, she’ll do so with the support of the dating app Bumble.
The Austin, Texas-based app partnered with lawmakers in its home state to successfully pass a similar bill that went into effect in September. The Texas law makes sending a non-consensual sexually explicit picture a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.
Chang’s proposal suggests that cyber-flashers would be subject to an infraction on par with a driver receiving a speeding ticket.
“I want to respect consensual interactions online but we need to make clear that if you lead a conversation with this kind of lewd material, it’s a form of harassment,” Chang said. “Women deserve better than this.”
“In a 2017 YouGov poll, 46% of men who admitted to sending a dick pic said they thought women found them distressing and 44% thought women found them threatening.”
An October 2017 survey from YouGov showed 78% of millennial women have received an unwanted dick pic. Offline, indecent exposure is considered a crime, but the laws are murkier when it comes to the digital space. By working with lawmakers like Chang, Bumble hopes to change that.
“So much of people’s lives are spent online, yet the digital world has fallen short of protecting us there,” CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd said in a press release. “What is illegal in the real world needs to be illegal in the digital world. Bumble is committed to working with Senator Chang to making that a reality in California.”
Earlier this year, Bumble — which differs from most dating apps because only women are able to initiate conversations with potential partners — added artificial intelligence technology that’s capable of detecting most NSFW photos sent through direct messages. (The app blurs the image, then gives the recipient a choice to view or delete it, and an option to report the sender.)
Chang and Herd hope laws such as the one proposed in California will curb the inclination to press send on an unwanted dick pic right from the get-go.
Interestingly, many dick pic senders say they know that it’s wrong to send them without consent in the first place. In another 2017 YouGov poll, 46% of men who admitted to sending a dick pic said they thought women found them distressing and 44% thought women found them threatening.
Though there are certainly straight men who struggle to read women’s social cues and gauge their interest in receiving such photos, for other men, pressing send is clearly about power and control, said Alexandra Katehakis, founder and clinical director of the Center for Healthy Sex in Los Angeles.
“In these cases, it’s, at the very least, a case of entitlement ― ‘I can do what I want to whomever I want, when I want’ ― or sexualized hostility,” Katehakis told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s angry that she won’t go out with him, thinks that he could never ‘get’ someone like her the way an incel might, or feels inadequate in general.”
This bill has the potential to deter people like this, while also encouraging those who struggle to read social cues to err on the side of caution, Katehakis said.
“It’s a reminder that consent is consent and that exposing yourself, whether in person or not, is an act of harassment,” she said. “No woman should be subjected to looking at a man’s genitals unless she wants to. That’s typically communicated by asking first, not by being shocked or surprised.”