Bill to ban ‘cyber flashing’ in Virginia fails in Senate committee

Bill to ban ‘cyber flashing’ in Virginia fails in Senate committee
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Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler, D-Virginia Beach, decided there was a problem that needed fixing after hearing what was happening to her fellow real estate agents, whose work requires publicizing a cell phone number.

Because the state already has a law against indecent exposure, she thought, there should be an equivalent ban on “cyber flashing” so women don’t have to see unsolicited photos of male genitals pop up on their screens.

“Maybe the pandemic has people bored,” Convirs-Fowler said at a Senate committee hearing Wednesday. “But regardless, we quickly found that there was no recourse for this offense.”

Her legislation making it a misdemeanor offense to send unsolicited sexual photos sailed through the House of Delegates on a 99-0 vote. But it met an abrupt end in the Senate Wednesday after legislators warned against an overbroad criminalization of nude images.

“I could see a situation where boyfriends and girlfriends are trading pictures of themselves,” said Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax. “And the relationship goes bad. And then a week or two or three later somebody’s swearing out a warrant saying ‘hey he keeps sending me this’ or ‘she keeps sending me that.’ And now there’s misdemeanor charges and lawyers involved.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8-5 to table the bill, with some lawmakers saying it needed more work. The bill could be revived if senators decide they want to attempt that work this session, but some seemed to have deep reservations about the concept.

Echoing a concern raised by a legislative staffer who suggested the ban could potentially apply to art that features exposed body parts, Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, wondered aloud whether the ban might extend to images of Michelangelo’s “David.”

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