Should Sending Unsolicited Dick Pics Be Illegal?

Yes, says Whitney Wolfe Herd, who founded dating app Bumble and is calling for a change in the law

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by Zoe Beaty |
Updated on

One of the most harrowing things that popped up in a recent discussion I was party to is how very usual it is to open a new message and find an unwanted dick peeping back at you. It is so commonplace that, really, my friends and I agreed, it’s barely worth a mention. Unsolicited nudes – usually aggressive and/or sad looking hard-ons from mediocre men, yearning for some attention – are part and parcel of dating in 2019. By now we’re almost bored of talking about them.

But despite their apparent normalization, unsolicited dick pics – those from strangers, or acquaintances; the ones that arrive with no context or are Airdropped by strangers on public transport – remain at best an annoyance and at worst, another type of harassment that just isn’t taken seriously enough. Just because we file them away under “women’s ongoing endurance”, along with cat-calling and the like, doesn’t mean that they’re not potentially harmful – as recently as last week new research suggested that “unwanted sexting” could be causing increased mental ill-health to recipients.

Which is why Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd is no longer taking unsolicited dick pics lightly. Rather, she has proposed a law in Texas, where she resides, calling for the act of sending a nude in this manner to be illegal. The proposal has been accepted and is currently making its way through governance. It’s expected that soon legislation will make sending unwanted pictures of genitals a “grade c misdemeanor” in the state. It’s about the equivalent of getting a parking ticket. Now, New York and other US states are considering introducing similar legislation.

“The first time I received an unsolicited lewd photo was via email, after my personal information was published on a white nationalist website,” Herd wrote in an op ed for US Cosmopolitan magazine. “At Bumble, the app I founded, we had partnered with the Anti-Defamation League to ban all forms of hate on our platform, and the white nationalist site basically called on its readers to come after us.

“I was bombarded by dozens of photos of male genitalia. It was horrifying.”

Herd is imploring those on the receiving end of unsolicited dick pics as “the abuse and harassment they are”.

Already Herd’s company, Bumble, has announced the roll-out of a “Private Detector” feature which will use AI to block users who use the app to send “junk mail”. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Renewed calls for this behavior to be legislated echo those raised in the UK late last year which questioned why flashing, physically, was illegal but its digital equivalent is not. Why are we accepting this, when the practice is almost universally detested? Should the UK be following Herd’s example?

“I know that we will never stop to these photos entirely,” the entrepreneur concluded her piece. “But when you know there’s a consequence, it does make you second-guess your actions.

“In the real world, we have laws about exposing yourself to people who have no interest in seeing you naked. It’s long past time we had these in the digital world too."

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