Legal experts and advocates say that sending unwanted intimate images is already a crime. (Getty Images)
On Thursday, New Hampshire senators moved forward with a proposal that would criminalize cyber-flashing, when an unwanted intimate image is sent as a form of harassment.
The bill, HB 296-FN, had been special ordered three times, which set back its passage in the Senate by three weeks.
On Thursday, the legislation was amended to clarify that the punishment for a first offense would be a violation – the same level of offense as a speeding ticket. Any subsequent offense would be a misdemeanor, which is the charge for flashing someone in person.
“Cyber-flashing is a form of harassment, and establishing this offense brings the cyber version of this act in line with public flashing,” said Sen. Harold French, a Franklin Republican.
The proposal, which passed on a voice vote, cites photographs, film, videos, or recordings that are “sexually explicit” or include exposed body parts. With public meetings moving online during the pandemic, so have perpetrators who have hijacked those gatherings by indecently exposing themselves, a phenomenon that’s been termed “Zoom-bombing.” But individuals have also been targeted through the use of technology like air-dropping that can allow strangers to send disturbing content.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Allison Nutting-Wong, said she introduced the legislation with the hope that it will dissuade people from sending such images. By the time her young son is grown up, she hopes it won’t be an issue those in his generation have to think about.
Nutting-Wong said she has also experienced this kind of harassment and that it can be deeply disturbing to receive the images.
“It’s alarming,” she said. Nutting-Wong has had images sent to her individually and in her capacity as a state representative.
“It makes you feel unsafe to be around your own phone. It makes you feel unsafe about this device that’s in your pocket,” she said.
When she reported the images, the response she received from the authorities was disheartening. “You’re told to block the number and ignore it,” she said.
If HB 296 becomes law, New Hampshire would be among the first states to provide protection for this kind of online harassment. Texas passed similar legislation in 2019.
“No one should have to be harassed,” Nutting-Wong said. “No one should feel they have no recourse.”
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