I recently asked a group of my girlfriends how many of them had received unsolicited “di*k pics” and was shocked when 4 out of 5 said they had- and often. “It’s just part of the online dating thing, if you’re on these sites you kind of just expect it”, one said. As someone who has been in a relationship for the past four years, I counted myself lucky for missing out on this dating right of passage. That was until I opened my Instagram direct message one day to find the genitals of a stranger glaring back at me. Many questions flooded my brain. Did I display any behaviour that would make this stranger think I would be pleased by his message? What kind of response was he hoping for? And also just general feelings of confusion and repulsion! (Sorry random internet man!)
I essentially felt a little violated, and concerned that this was such a commonplace event, with little to no repercussions for the sender. Let’s be honest- there is nothing wrong with two consenting adults sending and receiving these type of messages, and of course there are people who enjoy a surprise flash of genitals on their smart phone, but what is the go when it is completely unsolicited and unwanted?
After a little research I found I wasn’t the only one questioning this. ‘It’s essentially cyber-flashing, the real world’s online equivalent, and should be treated as seriously’ (Thompson 2016). Thompson mentions that flashing in public can carry a sentence of up to two years in prison in the UK. However ‘cyber-flashing’ and where it stands in a legal sense is still up for contention. According to the BBC, a woman in the UK reported an incident to police that took place on a train (Bell 2015). Lorraine Crighton-Smith was sent two photos of a strangers genitals on her phone via the Apple Airdrop function. The case was investigated but could not be taken further due to the lack of evidence considering Crighton-Smith did not press accept on the images. So other than cases where there is a distinct lack of evidence to work with; why is it taking us so long to clearly distinguish where the law stands on this issue?
Dr Deb Waterhouse-Watson (Twitter on Trial: Digital Media and the Law 2014) explains that ‘Law is a heavy and slow moving creature, party because it needs to be.’ She goes on to say that the Law itself needs to take into account all the issues surrounding digital media to therefore make any changes or to put laws in place.
Some people are now beginning to take matter into their own hands, to hold those accountable for their online harassment, whilst the law struggles to catch up with the rapid growth of technology and digital media.
Clemintine Ford is one of those people. In 2015 Ford contacted a Man’s employer after he left a derogatory comment on her public Facebook account, which then led to his dismissal. ‘There are basically no consequences for men who behave like this, so we have to start making consequences for them’, Ford explains (cited in SMH 2015).
But what happens when the photos that are circulating are of yourself and without your knowledge or consent? In 2014, the state of Victoria made it a punishable offence- one that could result in up to two years of imprisonment for perpetrators (Henry 2015). This online sharing of intimate photos taken by a current or ex-partner without consent -is essentially a crime of the modern age. One that is greatly influenced by the rapid expansion of technology and social media. Up until the last decade or so, it has been something we haven’t really had to consider, but now with the accessibility of photo sharing services, it is more common than ever.
The nature of technology is progressive- forever evolving and always thinking ahead, whereas the Law only changes when it needs to catch up. Does this mean we just accept the odd moment of digital ‘harassment’ in exchange for freedom on the internet?
Thompson, L 2016, ‘#DickPics are no joke: cyber-flashing, misogyny and online dating’, The Conversation, weblog post, 3 February, retrieved 1 August 2016, <https://theconversation.com/dickpics-are-no-joke-cyber-flashing-misogyny-and-online-dating-53843>
Bell, S 2015, ‘Police investigate ‘first cyber-flashing’ case’, BBC, 13 August, retrieved 1 August 2016, <http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-33889225>
Kosoff, M 2015, ‘How to use AirDrop, Apple’s incredible feature that lets you share pictures, video and more with nearby friends’, Business Insider, 18 October, retrieved 2 August 2016, <http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-use-apple-airdrop-2015-10/?r=AU&IR=T>
Twitter on Trial: Digital Media and the Law 2014, YouTube, Dr Deb Waterhouse-Watson, 7 September, retrieved 2 August, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7b9xXw0ymg>
Levy, M 2015, ‘Hotel worker Michael Nolan sacked over Facebook post to Clementine Ford’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 December, retrieved 2 August, <http://www.smh.com.au/national/hotel-worker-michael-nolan-sacked-over-facebook-post-to-clementine-ford-20151130-glc1y4.html>
Henry, N 2015, ‘Factbox: Revenge porn laws in Australia and beyond’, SBS, 15 October, retrieved 2 August, <http://www.sbs.com.au/news/dateline/article/2015/07/13/factbox-revenge-porn-laws-australia-and-beyond>