NH bill would make sending unsolicited lewd photos a crime

Concord Monitor
Published: 1/21/2022 10:36:13 PM
Modified: 1/21/2022 10:35:08 PM

CONCORD — A re-introduced House bill would criminalize the practice of sending explicit images of oneself to another person without the recipient’s consent, making the practice of “cyber-flashing” a misdemeanor.

Receiving unwanted photos of another person’s genitals, often referred to by the slang “d--- pics,” has become particularly common for young women. More than half (53%) of young women ages 18 to 29 say they’ve received explicit images they did not ask for, according to a Pew Research Center study. Texas made sending unwanted sexual images a misdemeanor in 2019.

The bill would amend the public indecency, indecent exposure and lewdness law that already makes it a crime to expose one’s genitals or perform an act of “gross lewdness” in a manner that “will likely cause affront or alarm,” extending that same principle to digital communications. Essentially, flashing someone electronically would be treated the same as if a person had exposed themselves in public.

HB 1388 would apply only to intimate images sent to people who are 16 or older, since it is already a felony to send similar content to children under 16.

Nashua state Rep. Allison Nutting-Wong, the bill’s primary sponsor, introduced legislation addressing this topic in 2020 and again in 2021 but both fell victim to the pandemic.

“This is a pervasive growing problem that is only going to get worse as time goes on unless you put a stop to it now,” Nutting-Wong, a Democrat, said during a public hearing in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee Friday.

Nutting-Wong wrote in an email to the Monitor that she worked with Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee Chairman Rep. Daryl Abbas to simplify the language in most recent bill to conform with current law. It is co-sponsored by two Republicans.

Lyn Schollett, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, testified in support of HB 1388 on Friday.

Schollett said the Coalition worked to develop the newest bill’s language.

She described the bill as solving a “loophole” in the law that punishes the sending of unwanted sexual images to kids under 16, but not to older teens or adults.

“Receiving an unsolicited sexual image is disarming. It can be frightening, it can be alarming, and it also is often used by abusers as part of the grooming process,” Schollett said. Grooming refers the process of slowly gaining the trust of a victim as a precursor to abuse.

“We believe that it’s appropriate for this to be an offense, but at a lower level than it would be if the images were sent to a minor,” she said.

When state Rep. Nicole Klein-Knight asked how common the practice was in New Hampshire, Schollett said she didn’t have specific data but that victims seeking help at crisis centers have reported that abusers increasingly use technology to stalk and harass them.

During the hearing, a few representatives asked about enforcement, raising issues like during a bitter breakup one ex-partner falsely accusing the other of sending once-desired photos without consent, or a case where an image is accidentally sent to the wrong recipient.

Nutting-Wong said that whether or not there was consent would be determined by police investigating the case and by the court, much like in sexual assault cases.

Assistant Merrimack County Attorney Steven Endres testified that there were a number of factors he would consider when deciding whether to charge someone who claimed he had accidentally sent an inappropriate picture to the wrong number.

“I would personally look at that scenario very much in the same context as if I had an individual who said ‘I was going to surprise my wife by jumping out naked in front of her and happened to have jumped out naked in front of the wrong person’,” Endres said. He said he would determine whether that claim was reasonable, including whether the two phone numbers were similar or whether the suspect had a habit of sending similar photos to unsuspecting people.

Multiple committee members also asked whether the law would apply to scenarios like “Zoom-bombing,” when an uninvited guest crashes a Zoom meeting, in this case to virtually flash participants.

Nutting-Wong said that she hoped the law would extend to live video meetings, and that she had personal experience with this phenomenon. “My mother’s church group got, ‘Zoom flashed’ or whatever you call it, where these nice old ladies doing Bible study did get hacked, and it was very disturbing,” she said.

Endres said that he believed the definition of image, which is not defined in the existing law, would likely extend to cover conduct in live video feeds like Zoom meetings.




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy