Texas Passes a New “Cyber Flashing” Law

I read a lot of news—a lot.  So I am not sure how I missed that in 2019, Texas passed a law[1] banning “dick pics” and other types of “cyber flashing.” Flashing and exposure, now possible in the digital realm, is a form of sexual harassment that is often not prioritized, and not even discussed.[2]  One commenter on that article offered her own experience, to which many women can relate:

I was targeted by a man in a nearby park a few years ago in the middle of the day in summer so with other people in sight. He sat behind me (I was sitting on the grass reading a book) and kept getting closer to me. When he was just about in my line of sight I was uncomfortable enough to move.  I got up, not making eye contact, and collected my things. Just as I was about to leave he called out to me and, foolishly, I turned round – to see him with all his junk out one leg of his shorts masturbating while staring at me. The whole incident really affected me badly – especially as I later realised he’d been doing it for a while behind me out of my line of sight. I did report it but, of course, no-one was ever caught for it and I have to live with not only the memories of the incident but the knowledge that he’s been free to go do you to other women. It took me into lockdown last year to be able to go into the park again on my own. Even then I’m always hyper-aware of everyone around me and stick to the paths, just in case.

As we were discussing this in our coder meeting, one of our coders mentioned how it’s even more awful for young schoolgirls who are flashed. Imagine being a little 10 year old walking home from the bus stop and a pervert pops out of the bushes and exposes himself—how utterly traumatizing!

The 2019 Texas law[3] “makes the electronic transmission of sexually explicit material a Class C misdemeanor, with a maximum $500 fine, when the recipient hasn’t provided consent. The law will make Texas one of the first states to take a stand against sending sexually explicit images, which about 40% of women report receiving without consent.[4] The law won’t apply just to texts, but also to what’s sent over other platforms like email, dating apps and social media.”

The unfortunate thing, however, is that when I search for an update, there was nothing. I could find no report that anyone had been prosecuted under this law, and I could find no reports that Texas women felt they were receiving fewer unwanted dick pics.  Darn.  And efforts to pass similar legislation in California, New York, and Virginia have all failed.[5]  Double darn. At least Bumble—a dating site whose CEO is a woman—has pioneered an AI system to detect and delete unwanted sick pics sent through their site.[6] Other dating sites, such as Badoo, are reportedly following suit.

But I am still troubled by all of this. Why is this considered so inconsequential? This is not harmless, this is threatening behavior.  One excellent law review article noted that “In one study, 29% of men who sent dick pics said they believe women find them distressing, while 24% said they believe women find them threatening.”[7] So men know and admit their behavior seriously upsets women, and yet they do it anyway. Why must this type of harassment and threat be the price of being a woman? Why can’t we say that no women should be forced to view unwanted genital photos? It seems like something very basic. Why can’t we also say that men who do this to women should be punished by their society?  That also seems very basic.

Bravo, Texas, for addressing this issue in a straightforward fashion!

-V.M.H.


[1] Closson, Troy. 2019. “A New Texas Law Criminalizes Sending Unwanted Nudes. Lawyers Say It Might Be Difficult to Enforce.” The Texas Tribune. https://www.texastribune.org/2019/08/14/Texas-new-law-sending-unwanted-nudes-dating-apps-texts/ (April 20, 2021).

[2] Oppenheim, Maya. 2021. “‘He’d Cut out a Square in His Jeans’: The Women Who Have Suffered Indecent Exposure.” The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/indecent-exposure-flashing-sexual-harassment-b1828743.html (April 20, 2021).

[3] Closson, Troy. 2019. “A New Texas Law Criminalizes Sending Unwanted Nudes. Lawyers Say It Might Be Difficult to Enforce.” The Texas Tribune. https://www.texastribune.org/2019/08/14/Texas-new-law-sending-unwanted-nudes-dating-apps-texts/ (April 20, 2021).

[4] “YouGovNY Dick Pics.” 2017. https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/pqm8ufrima/dick%20pics%20data.pdf

[5] Sherman, Carter. 2021. “8 Men Just Blocked Virginia From Banning Unwanted Dick Pics.” https://www.vice.com/en/article/5dpe45/sending-unsolicited-dick-pics-is-still-totally-legal-in-most-places (April 20, 2021).

[6] Matney, Lucas. 2019. “Bumble’s ‘Private Detector’ Uses AI to Detect Dick Pics.” TechCrunch. https://social.techcrunch.com/2019/04/24/bumbles-private-detector-uses-ai-to-detect-dick-pics/ (April 20, 2021).

[7] Miller, Brenna Cheyne. 2021. “Fact or Phallus?: Considering the Constitutionality of Texas’s Cyber-Flashing Law Under the True Threat Doctrine.” Texas A&M Law Review 8(2): 423–49.

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