California won’t make sending unwanted nude photos a crime

A bill is headed to the governor’s desk that would create a way to sue people who send unsolicited sexual images, but legislation is poised to make “cyberflashing” a crime in California.

If signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Senate Law 53 by Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) will allow Californians to try someone in civil court over unsolicited indecent photos sent to them electronically; Plaintiffs could receive up to $30,000 in damages.

The bill, passed Monday in the Senate by a 37-0 vote, comes after reports of men using the AirDrop iPhone feature to send suggestive pictures to nearby strangers or through online dating apps without the recipient’s consent to send.

The bill applies to senders aged 18 and over and defines obscene imagery as anything that depicts a person engaged in sexual acts, including masturbation, or photographs of genitals in a “manifestly objectionable manner” and which overall lacks serious literary or artistic work, political or scientific value.”

The bill is sponsored by woman-centric dating app Bumble. The company has been working to pass similar legislation in other states, including Texas and Virginia. Bills passed by these states made sending such images illegal and carried fines of up to $500.

“There is no punishment; we took it out of the equation,” Leyva said in an interview with the Times on Monday. “Nobody wanted to create a new crime.”

Previous versions of the bill would have created a felony punishable by a fine of up to $750. Those versions met with opposition from the California Public Defenders Association, which said they went “too far” and would mean “lifelong consequences” for offenders “regardless of their intent to cause harm.”

“It seeks to punish what some might reasonably interpret as harmless behavior,” the group said in an opposition statement. “Furthermore, in the digital age, it’s all too common to misread the proverbial space.”

The group does not oppose the current version of the bill.

Legal experts also questioned whether such a crime would be difficult to enforce, since it could be difficult to identify individuals unknown to recipients of indecent images.

Supporters of the bill say sending unsolicited photos and videos should be treated the same as the crimes of indecent exposure and flashing.

Despite the changes in the bill, the legal protections will have an impact, Levya said, especially for young women, who disproportionately receive such images. According to a Pew Research Center survey, more than half of women under the age of 29 said they received unsolicited pictures.

Levya said that while working on the legislation, she heard from women who were receiving photos of penises via AirDrop while on the bus or walking down the street.

“It’s a culture shift,” she said of the bill. “People will know it’s not okay to send unsolicited pictures.” California won’t make sending unwanted nude photos a crime

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