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Bill would criminalize sending sexually explicit images, videos on social media, apps

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Cyberflashing includes the transferal of sexually explicit images and videos without consent via social media, messaging apps, WiFi, Bluetooth and AirDrop.

According to Pew Research, more than half of women ages 18 to 29 have received an explicit image for which they never asked. Overall, 32 percent of women and 30 percent of men have received unsolicited explicit images. The rise in cyberflashing has also impacted celebrities like Keke Palmer and Chrishell Stause.

The rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) is further complicating the issue. The Stanford Internet Observatory and Thorn found that AI technologies exacerbate online sexual exploitation and contribute to the creation of child sexual abuse material (CSAM).

On March 20, 2024, U.S. Reps. Jennifer McClellan of Virginia and Nathaniel Moran of Texas, and Sens. Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Steve Daines of Montana introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Curbing Online Non-consensual Sexually Explicit Nudity Transfers (CONSENT) Act to protect Americans from unsolicited lewd photos.

“The widespread use of social media and dating apps has laid way to online sexual harassment and cyberflashing. We are also seeing a concerning rise in the creation and transference of AI-generated, sexually explicit content that exploits children, celebrities, and everyday Americans,” McClellan said. “When someone flashes you on the street, they get arrested, but when they flash you through your phone, nothing happens. Congress has struggled to keep up with the rapid evolution of technology and has failed to develop much-needed legislation to safeguard against these issues and protect online users. As a state legislator, I championed legislation to make cyberflashing illegal in Virginia. Now in Congress, I am continuing my leadership on this issue to protect online users nationwide. The CONSENT Act will address the privacy and safety concerns of online users and help ensure individuals have legal recourse in these devastating situations.”

Moran said the digital world “has become a breeding ground for online sexual harassment and exploitation. The bipartisan CONSENT Act establishes vital safeguards to uphold privacy and security in the digital sphere by ensuring that victims of online harassment have the legal recourses they need.”

Sen. Schatz, a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, said that no one should be a victim of “unwanted flashing, whether in real-life or online. By providing a federal private right of action and imposing penalties, this bill will help prevent sexual harassment and hold perpetrators accountable.”

“Cyberflashing is never okay, and perpetrators must be held accountable for this disgusting act. I’m glad to introduce this bipartisan bill to allow victims of online sexual harassment an opportunity to seek justice,” Daines said.


  • Ensures a private right of action against individuals who knowingly send unsolicited, nonconsensual, sexually explicit visual images, whether they are unaltered or manipulated using machine learning or artificial intelligence.
  • Provides that an individual may obtain either statutory damages (not more than $500) OR compensatory damages for emotional distress, reimbursement for reasonable attorney fees, and a temporary restraining order to cease receiving sexually explicit images from the sender.
  • Safeguards the privacy of minors and allows a legal guardian to bring a civil action on their behalf and may elect to use the plaintiff’s initials in all further court proceedings.

The CONSENT Act is endorsed by the online dating app Bumble, National District Attorneys Association, National Organization of Women (NOW), Virginia NOW, the National Political Women’s Caucus, and the Richmond YWCA.

“Since Bumble was founded in 2014, we’ve worked to create a world where all relationships are healthy and equitable, and consent is a foundational part of our mission. Bumble has been at the forefront of cyberflashing laws for years, and in an age of AI, we need laws that protect unsolicited lewd content more than ever,” Bumble CEO Lidiane Jones said. “The CONSENT Act is a groundbreaking step in continuing that mission and builds upon the monumental passing of cyberflashing bills in Texas, California and Virginia. Thank you to Representatives McClellan and Moran and Senators Schatz and Daines for the incredible bipartisan work introducing this bill and championing this important conversation to make all digital spaces safer and kinder.”

According to Christian F. Nunes, National President of the National Organization for Women, cyberflashing is a crime.

“It is a shocking and distressing experience. By banning cyberflashing and the transfer of unsolicited AI-generated explicit photos, this legislation will empower victims, especially those most vulnerable, to feel and be safe. Thank you to Congresswoman McClellan and her Republican co-sponsor, Congressman Nathaniel Moran, and Senators Brian Schatz and Steve Daines for their leadership. NOW supports this bill and urges the U.S. House and Senate to vote in favor of this legislation. It is time to cover up the re-branded version of the trench coat flasher,” Nunes said.

Deidre Malone is president of the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC). She said the legislation is what is necessary to hold accountable individuals who abuse technology.

“This legislation will take power away from the perpetrator and give power and relief to the victim of this heinous act. NWPC supports the CONSENT Act and asks members of Congress to vote for this critical piece of legislation. Thank you to Congresswoman McClellan, Congressman Moran, and Senator Schatz for this bipartisan legislation,” Malone said.

The CONSENT Act is a critical step forward in the digital age to protect the dignity and privacy of individual Americans, Nelson Bunn, Executive Director of the National District Attorneys Association, said.

“By empowering people to take legal action against unsolicited sexually explicit material, it reinforces the fundamental principle of consent. This pivotal legislation serves as an essential tool to uphold law and order on the digital frontier, shielding citizens from invasive intrusions and promoting a safer online environment for everyone,” Bunn said.

“Consent extends beyond physical, intimate relationships and face-to-face interactions. Consent is something that must also be practiced in our online spaces. However, in many ways, being online allows people to hide behind profiles to perpetrate harassment that is just as harmful as in-person harassment,” said Rupa Murthy, Chief Executive Officer of YWCA Richmond. “Cyberflashing is a practice of power and control that causes those who experience it to feel intimidated, embarrassed, and unsure of what to do next. For youth, beyond the emotional and psychological effects, cyberflashing and exposure to explicit content at a young age can have negative, sometimes long-term, impacts on their understanding of boundaries and healthy relationships. YWCA Richmond believes all people have the right to safe, healthy, and thriving relationships off and online. We are thankful to Representatives McClellan and Moran and Senators Schatz and Daines for their effort and work to introduce this bill to help make the ever, rapidly changing online space safer.”

“The CONSENT Act is important legislation addressing the ever-evolving technology landscape, and those who engage in sending unsolicited, nonconsensual nude photos need to be put on notice that their actions have consequences and will not be tolerated. This much needed law aims to give victims relief, protect their privacy, and hold perpetrators accountable. Virginia NOW applauds the bill sponsors for bringing it forward,” said Lisa Sales, President of Virginia National Organization of Women (NOW).

As of July 1st, 2022, sending unsolicited nude photos in Virginia is illegal, thanks to McClellan’s efforts as a state legislator. While in the Virginia General Assembly, McClellan worked with Bumble to develop and champion legislation that made it illegal to send unsolicited, sexually explicit photos.

McClellan delivered a speech on the House floor to announce the introduction of the bill.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.