Senate Passes Bipartisan Bill to Protect Virginians from Online Indecent Exposure

New Legislation Would Create Civil Penalty for Sending Unwanted Lewd Images

RICHMOND, VA – Today, the Senate of Virginia passed a bipartisan bill to help prevent Virginians from receiving unsolicited lewd photos. SB 493 passed unanimously.

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 award punitive damages and 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’s Senate vote represented important bipartisan progress to protect Virginians from unwanted lewd photos,” said Sen. McClellan. “Virginians deserve protection from indecent exposure, whether it’s online or offline. This bill will help make a safer Virginia and stop the perpetrators who send unwanted photos.”

“With unanimous bipartisan support, this bill sends a clear message from the Virginia Senate – don’t send sexually explicit photos or videos to another person who has not invited it,” said Sen. Boysko.

“This bill addresses a serious issue and I am very proud of the collaboration on this bill,” said Sen. Vogel. “We speak for a lot of people who are very eager to see this bill pass.”

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 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. “We are grateful to partner with Delegate Fowler, Senator McClellan, National Women’s Political Caucus-Virginia, and bipartisan state lawmakers to drive institutional change as we pass this bill in the Virginia Senate.”

“We are very pleased with the bipartisan vote today in the Senate that brings SB493 one step closer to becoming law,” said Jennifer Gaylor, VP of Communications for the National Women’s Political Caucus of Virginia. “With protections already in place for indecent exposure and ‘revenge’ porn, Virginia may soon close the cellphone-sized loophole that allows someone to send an unsolicited lewd image to an adult without penalty. Virginians of any age should be able to hold perpetrators responsible for intrusive and often traumatizing images. We thank Senators McClellan, Boysko, and Vogel, and Delegates Convirs-Fowler and Coyner for their work on this bill, and look forward to it passing the House.”

In January, Sen. McClellan and Delegates Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach) and 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

“I am thrilled that the Senate version of our bill to empower victims of cyberflashing, SB 493, has passed the Senate with bipartisan support,” said Delegate Convirs-Fowler. “I look forward to helping this bill across the finish line in the House and sending it on up to the Governor’s desk!”