Convirs-Fowler, Coyner and McClellan Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Protect Virginians from Online Indecent Exposure
New Legislation Would Create Civil Penalty for Sending Unwanted Lewd Images
RICHMOND – Today, Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and Delegates Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach) and Carrie Coyner (R-Chesterfield) announced a new bipartisan bill to help prevent Virginians from receiving unsolicited lewd photos. Video of their press conference is available here.
The bill, which has been introduced in both the House and Senate, would establish a civil penalty for a person who knowingly sends an unsolicited image by electronic means, directed to another person, depicting any person engaging in a lewd act. Under the bill, the penalty would be no more than $250 for a first offense and no more than $500 for a second offense or subsequent offense. It would only apply to senders and recipients above the age of 18, as minors are protected by other laws.
The bipartisan Virginia bill follows similar 2019 Texas legislation (HB2789) that Bumble helped pass with bipartisan support. Bumble has worked with local legislators to draft similar bills in Wisconsin, New York and California.
53 percent of young American women and 37 percent of young American men have been sent unsolicited explicit material while online, according to a 2017 Pew survey. Under Virginia law, indecent exposure is defined as a person who “intentionally makes an obscene display or exposure of his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place.” However, there is no parallel law for the modern version of indecent exposure: unsolicited photos sent online between adults.
“For the second year in a row, I am pursuing legislation to protect Virginians from unsolicited digital indecent images,” said Delegate Kelly Convirs-Fowler. “This is long overdue in this fast-paced digital world.”
“The social isolation of COVID produced more online communications and increased the sharing of intimate images and videos on webcams, apps and social media platforms. Unfortunately, many more women found themselves the victims of ‘revenge porn’ and online sexual harassment,” said Delegate Carrie Coyner. “With this legislation, we have an opportunity to protect the privacy rights of our citizens and prevent the trauma it causes in the lives of victims.”
“Virginians deserve protection from indecent exposure – both online and offline,” said Senator Jennifer McClellan. “This bill is a common-sense bipartisan measure to close a loophole in our laws and protect Virginians from unwanted lewd photos on text messages, dating apps or social media. This bill will help make a safer Virginia and stop the perpetrators who send these unwanted photos.”
“We have come a long way to protect victims of harassment in person, and it’s time for the law to catch up for online violations. Enough is enough,” said Kati Hornung, co-founder of National Women’s Political Caucus-Virginia. “While current law prohibits unsolicited lewds to minors, adults who receive unsolicited explicit material have no recourse. The NWPC-VA is determined to fight this ‘cell phone sized loophole’ and protect all Virginians from unwanted sexual photos.” The National Women’s Political Caucus was founded in 1972, dedicated to electing more women to political office and supporting legislators who want to uplift the lives of women and families. “Our Virginia caucus was founded in 2020, and we have these same goals here in the Commonwealth,’ Ms. Hornung added.
“After HB 2789 went into effect in our home state of Texas, we knew there was a big opportunity on a state-level to help make the Internet a safer and kinder space for everyone,” said Payton Iheme, Bumble’s Head of Public Policy, North America and Latin America. Bumble is a women-first dating and social networking app, which connects people across dating, friendship and professional networking. Iheme continued, “After Virginia’s initial HB 2254 passed unanimously through the State House before being killed in a Senate committee in early 2021, we immediately pulled together leaders and policy team members across Bumble to create a tactical plan of support for this initiative. We are grateful to partner with Delegate Fowler, Senator McClellan, National Women’s Political Caucus, and bi-partisan state lawmakers to drive institutional change as we reintroduce this bill to the great state of Virginia.”