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Sending of unsolicited nudes is now illegal in Virginia, thanks to a bill backed by Bumble

By JUSTINE PUNZALAN Published Apr 23, 2022 8:18 pm Updated Apr 23, 2022 10:50 pm

Sending unsolicited nude photos electronically is now illegal in Virginia, U.S.A. after online dating app Bumble called on the government to make 'cyberflashing' a crime in the state.

The bill, filed as SB 493, imposes a civil penalty for any adult in Virginia who engages in cyberflashing, or the act of knowingly sending a photo of their naked body or genitals, via electronic device to another adult without their consent. 

SB 493 was passed by the commonwealth's lawmakers on April 13 and is set to become law on July 1. According to the bill, individuals caught engaging in the activity will be "liable to the recepient of the initimate image for actual damages or $500, whichever is greater in addition to reasonable attorney fees and costs." Violators may also be subject to punitive damages if their actions are found to be especially harmful to the recipient.

Bumble began to lobby on the bill following its 2018 survey, which showed that one in three women on Bumble receive unsolicited explicit photos from someone they have not yet met in person. 

"An overwhelming number of these women—96%—were unhappy to have been sent these images," Bumble said. The research also suggests that the figures could increase in the coming years.

Bumble got a bill similar to Virginia's SB 493 enacted into law in Texas in September 2019. In November 2021, the company began working with the U.K. government in implementing the same law in England and Wales.

According to a report by British political magazine The New Statesman, U.K. Members of Parliament have called on the government to criminalize cyberflashing to prevent indecent exposure in real life. 

Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhous, for one, said that enacting the law would be beneficial for women, as "gendered harms are endemic."

"Like real-life flashing, cyber-flashing can frighten, humiliate and violate boundaries," said Hobhouse. "It is a form of sexual harassment for which even the physical boundaries of a home offer no respite. [It is] relentless and can cause many women to police their online activity. Yet the trauma is trivialized."

Four months later, in March 2022, the U.K. government announced that it is making cyberflashing punishable by law as part of its proposed Online Safety Bill.

According to Bumble's spokesperson, it is now working on legislation in more U.S. states, particularly California, Wisconsin, New York, and Pennsylvania.