House Passes Bipartisan Bill to Protect Virginians from Online Indecent Exposure

Legislation Will Create Civil Penalty for Sending Unwanted Indecent Images

RICHMOND, VA – Today, the House of Virginia passed a bipartisan bill to help prevent Virginians from receiving unsolicited intimate photos. SB 493 passed the House unanimously, and has already passed the Senate. It now heads back to the Senate for adoption of an amendment, and then will go to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk for signature.

SB 493 establishes a civil penalty for an adult who knowingly sends an intimate image digitally to another adult who has not consented to or has expressly forbidden receipt of such image. The bill entitles the recipient to the greater of actual damages or $500, in addition to reasonable attorney fees and costs. A court may also enjoin and restrain the defendant from committing such further acts. 

SB 493 only applies to senders, recipients, and images involving individuals above the age of 18, as minors are protected by other laws.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) was the chief patron of the bill, and Sens. Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) and Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier) were chief co-patrons.

“Today, Democrats and Republicans together took action to protect Virginians from receiving unwanted intimate photos,” said Sen. McClellan. “Virginians deserve protection from indecent exposure, whether it’s online or offline. I appreciate the work of the bipartisan leaders behind this bill and the constituents who advocated for it. I look forward to Gov. Youngkin signing this bill to make Virginia safer and stop perpetrators who send unwanted lewd photos.”

“Today’s passage is a huge milestone for digital safety in Virginia,” said Delegate Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach), who patroned the House version of the bill. “Virginians will be breathing a sigh of relief. With bipartisan support, SB 493 now heads to Governor Youngkin’s desk for signing.”

“I am delighted that the legislature has worked in bi-partisan fashion to pass important legislation to protect those on social media from unsolicited lewd photos,” said Sen. Vogel. “Virginians desperately want the laws of the Commonwealth to keep pace with the complex challenges created by social media. I am so grateful for passage of the bill.”

“SB 493 has now passed unanimously through both the Senate and the House. There are issues that are not political and being confident that we can communicate freely without being forced to view unwanted images is something we can all agree on,” said Sen. Boysko.

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.

The bipartisan Virginia bill follows similar 2019 Texas legislation (HB2789) that passed in a bipartisan manner. The Virginia bill and the Texas bill have been supported by businesses like Bumble, a women-first dating and social networking app, which connects people across dating, friendship and professional networking.

“After spearheading HB 2789 in our home state of Texas, we knew there was a big opportunity to continue the work to help make the Internet a safer and kinder space for everyone. We are proud to continue this effort in Virginia and for the incredible bi-partisan collaboration in highlighting the importance of this issue across the state,” said Payton Iheme, Bumble’s Head of Public Policy for the Americas. 

“We are extremely pleased that SB493 has passed both chambers and is ready for the Governor’s signature,” said Jennifer Gaylor, VP of Communications for the National Women’s Political Caucus of Virginia. “A lot of hard work went into crafting this bill, and we thank Senators McClellan, Boysko, and Vogel, and Delegates Convirs-Fowler and Coyner for their commitment to protecting Virginians from online harassment.”

In January, Sen. McClellan, Del. Convirs-Fowler and Del. Carrie Coyner (R-Chesterfield), patrons of the House version of the bill, discussed the bill with supporters in a press conference. Video of their press conference is available here