Sexual Harassment and the Internet

By: Lanie Tunnell

Sexual harassment happens online, too. Even though online harassment is a major problem, it’s rarely prosecuted.

People are always talking about how vast the Internet is and how “the whole entire world and their grandmas can see what goes on it”. The Internet is growing fast; unfortunately, laws relative to the Internet are not developing as quickly. It’s hard to keep up, sure, but a big aspect of the lack of legal process is the way Internet harassment is viewed. Because technology has made it incredibly easy to sexually harass someone, the seriousness of the crime has been diminished.

The form of online sexual harassment I’m going to address is the infamous “Unsolicited Dick Pic”. Yes, it’s come to the point to where it’s funny. But women are laughing for a completely different reason. Women are laughing at how absurd it is that something so ridiculous continues to happen so often to them. I can’t think one instance I know of when a woman has received a photo of random schlong and immediately ran off to go meet her prince charming.

Once again, I am no stranger to the wondrous phenomenon of the surprise crotch shot. I had stopped talking to men altogether, but when an old boss messaged me to catch up, I didn’t think much of it. We were talking about movies when all of the sudden he sent me a preview of something I didn’t buy tickets for, if you know what I’m saying.

I was on my way to performing my usual “vomit, block, and move on” routine when I decided to think about why I was bothered by unsolicited pictures of genitalia. I mean I always figured the reason was obvious, but I had never tried to put it into words before.

Then I realized that when he did this, he was sending a clear message that he didn’t care about me as a person, and he was only interested in sex. It felt like he was communicating to me that what I had to say was meaningless small talk and he was ready to move on to get what he wanted.

Whenever I receive a nude photo without being asked, I imagine someone coming up to me on the street and flashing me. That’s essentially what’s happening, but in this instance I have photo evidence. Normally, the man in this situation would be charged with indecent exposure- if he were proven guilty, of course.

In most states, indecent exposure is a criminal offense punishable by fines and/or imprisonment, and/or registered sex offender requirements and restrictions. But because indecent exposure is defined as “the crime of intentionally showing one’s sexual organs in public, intentionally sending someone an unsolicited photo of those same sex organs doesn’t qualify to be punishable by law. Which is odd not only because the perpetrator can be proven guilty, but also because everyone acts like the Internet is public in the sense that anyone can access anything out there.  

Finally, there is the issue of consent. Upon receiving a graphic photo, the recipient is put in a sexual situation they did not consent to. In other words, it’s sexual assault. Most women just shrug it off, like I usually do (the whole “vomit, block, move on” method), because receiving a dick pic is such a frequent occurrence that there is a level of desensitization. But perhaps another reason it is dismissed so quickly is because even after recognizing that it is an issue of sexual assault, there’s nothing that can be done about it. There’s no repercussion for sending a nude picture without consent, and that’s a problem the legal system has yet to address despite the growth of technology in our society.