Legislation proposed by Virginia Delegate Kelly Convirs-Fowler would have banned “cyber flashing”—what she’s calling the phenomenon of people sending unsolicited nude photographs. The idea came to Convirs-Fowler after talking with fellow real estate agents, who regularly deal with this kind of digital harassment because their jobs often require having a publically available cell phone number.
Although the legislation proposed by Convirs-Fowler was passed by a 99-0 vote in the Virginia House of Delegates, it was voted down Thursday in the Virginia Senate over some lawmakers’ concerns that it was too broad in its criminalization of nude images. The Senate Judiciary voted 8-5 to table the bill, and although it could be revived, it was clear that some senators were hesitant about the entire concept, with one raising concerns about First Amendment implications, and another wondering if it could be applied to art that contains nude elements.
“I could see a situation where boyfriends and girlfriends are trading pictures of themselves,” said Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax. “And the relationship goes bad. And then a week or two or three later somebody’s swearing out a warrant saying ‘hey he keeps sending me this’ or ‘she keeps sending me that.’ And now there’s misdemeanor charges and lawyers involved.”
I could absolutely understand concerns over the ways that criminalizing the sending of nude photographs could be used to further limit the options of sex workers, but the idea that legislation preventing unwanted nude photos should be wholly dismissed because sometimes relationships are on-again/off-again is iffy reasoning at best.
Delegate Convirs-Fowler was clear that her bill would only deal with unsolicited photos, and only apply to “obscene” material, which she believed would exclude artistic nudity. Despite an earlier draft specifying that the legislation would only apply to photos sent with “the intent to coerce, harass or intimidate,” she eventually introduced a substitute version of the legislation that eliminated the aspects dealing with intent and limited the bill to images sent “without consent of the recipient.”
In a tweet on Wednesday evening, Convirs-Fowler pointed out that all eight of the senators who voted against the legislation were men.
“I think that perhaps the senate doesn’t understand the issue, doesn’t understand it’s a widespread issue. I think it’s a denial of a problem that’s there,” Convirs-Fowler said. “To have it be given a nine-minute hearing and all men decide, it was very upsetting.”