California lawmakers allow lawsuits against ‘cyber flashers’

Victims who receive unsolicited sexually-orientated graphic material via text, email, app or other electronic means could sue the sender under a bill California lawmakers sent Governor Gavin Newsom to Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday.

The bill targets so-called “cyber flashing,” where victims often receive such unwelcome surprises from strangers.

“Just as individuals experience sexual harassment and abuse in their physical and non-digital lives, there is a growing incidence of individuals being harassed by receiving unsolicited sexually explicit images and videos, including from people they don’t know,” said Cecilia Aguiar, a member of the Democratic Assembly. Curry when the Assembly approved the bill.

The Assembly passed the measure 76-0 on Thursday and the Senate sent the bill to Newsom on a 37-0 roll call on Monday. There was no registered opposition.

The most common recipients are young women, Aguiar-Curry said. The Pew Research Center in a report last year on online harassment found that 33% of women under 35 had been sexually harassed online, three times more often than men.

In a 2017 report, the center said more than half of women between the ages of 18 and 29 had received unsolicited explicit images, as had 37% of men in the same age range.

The unsolicited material also arrived through various online dating apps and social media platforms, said Democratic Senator Connie Leyva, who requested the measure. Sometimes images were even transferred to devices via Apple’s AirDrop in public areas to unsuspecting recipients, Leyva said.

The bill would allow recipients to recover at least $1,500 and up to $30,000 from senders of obscene material over the age of 18, as well as punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. They could also seek court orders blocking such behavior in the future.

Proponents abandoned an earlier version that would have made cyber-flashing a crime punishable by a $750 fine for repeat offenders, after public defenders objected.

A Republican lawmaker who experimented with cyber-blinking herself originally sought a ban in 2019 at the request of dating app Bumble. The decision then came after Texas committed such acts.

The cyber-flashing bill is the latest in the California Legislature’s attempts to deter related harassment in the electronic age.

It banned “revenge porn” in 2013, making it a crime to publicly broadcast what were supposed to be private intimate photos. And it authorized lawsuits against those who distributed “deepfakes,” or false representations, in 2019.