Cyberflashing is a New York scourge. End it. – New York Daily News

New York’s transit system becomes ground zero for the new form of harassment sweeping cities: cyberflashing. It’s when someone sends sexual images to someone else without their consent.

But this form of digital harassment doesn’t just happen in open public spaces. It happens at work, at school and on social media, by strangers and acquaintances – and those who experience it are pissed off, disgusted and violated.

At the National Organization for Women in New York, we are hearing more and more about cyberflashing incidents. In addition to subway users, women who work in sectors such as real estate, where their contact details are widely available, are targeted. It has to stop.

Research suggests that online abusive behavior targeting women has only intensified in recent years. The percentage of U.S. adults experiencing severe online abuse rose to 25% in 2020, according to the Pew Research Center. Almost half of women said the violence was gender-related, compared to just 18% for men.

According to Pew, 53% of young American women and 37% of young American men have received unsolicited explicit material via social media platforms, including Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Cyberflashing also occurs via text messages, emails and digital sharing in public spaces.

In 2018 dating app Bumble commissioned a study which found that one in three women had received unsolicited obscene images in their lifetime and, surprise, surprise, 96% of them said that they didn’t want it. In response, Bumble launched Private Detector, a feature that uses artificial intelligence to automatically blur obscene images sent through its app.

We should not rely on corporate responsibility to attack this reprehensible behavior. A bill making its way through the Legislature would make digital sexual harassment an adult offense in New York, recognizing this unwanted behavior as not only abusive but illegal.

The legislation, drafted by Congresswoman Amy Paulin and State Senator James Skoufis, would make cyberflash an offense, which can result in a $500 fine and up to 15 days in jail if the court finds that the act of the author justifies it. People who amuse themselves by sending these unsolicited obscene images, often of male genitalia, could also be mandated to undergo sexual harassment training.

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We know that online abusive sexual behavior is often one of the first stages of increasingly aggressive behavior that escalates into actual predatory behavior, so it’s not just about the act itself. This is to prevent even more serious damage. According to a UN Women report released in late 2021, online harassment is one of the key elements of a pandemic-fueled surge in gender-based violence around the world.

New York would not be the first state to act. Last month, Virginia made cyberflashing an offense after Texas did the same in 2019. Bumble has supported bills in both states and has partnered with the National Organization for Women in an effort to to make cyberflashing a punishable offense in the remaining 48 states, with bills pending in New York, Pennsylvania, California and Wisconsin.

It’s not just a problem in the United States either. This year, the UK made cyberflash a criminal offense punishable by two years in prison, after research from 2020 found that 76% of girls aged 12 to 18 had received unsolicited nude images from boys or men. The measure comes on the heels of lawmakers criminalizing upskirt voyeurism and breastfeeding, which are also pernicious trends here in the United States.

The New York legislature has a strong track record of recognizing the myriad ways sexual harassment occurs and has led the country to take strong action to address its pervasiveness in the workplace. The Legislature has enacted laws to give victims of revenge pornography a right of action, to give those subjected to hostile work environments the legal platform to report it, and to give employers the responsibility to remedy it. . It didn’t stop there either. In New York City, harassment that occurs on the street – from threatening and abusive language to harassment by those we know and strangers – has also been recognized as criminal.

But this year, on this issue, time is running out. If this measure is not passed by both houses before the end of session early next month, New Yorkers will have to wait another year to start the process over again. Women going to work should not be subjected to cyber flashers with no power to fight back.

It’s time for the New York legislature to send a strong message to the public that sexual harassment will not be tolerated. Not via text, email, direct message or any other digital form of image sharing.

Ossorio is president of the National Organization for Women – NYC.

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