The National Center on Sexual Exploitation is pleased to present the Dignity Defense Award to Bumble, a popular woman-founded, woman-led dating app that is devotedly working to combat the unsolicited sending of sexual images – a form of online sexual harassment known as “cyberflashing.” Bumble’s fight against cyberflashing has involved adding industry standard-setting safety features to their app, as well as advocating to make cyberflashing illegal throughout the United States. Bumble recently succeeded in influencing the state of Virginia to pass a law which will, as of July 1, 2022, prohibit cyberflashing. The company has stated that they will not stop until every U.S. state has passed a law prohibiting cyberflashing.
Bumble’s work on cyberflashing began in 2018 when a study they commissioned found that one in three women using the Bumble dating app reported having received unsolicited sexual images. Of these women, 96% were unhappy to have been sent these images. Woman-founded, women-led Bumble took this problem seriously. Looking into what could be done about the issue, the Bumble team realized that there were no laws in the U.S. to ban cyberflashing, even though laws existed to ban similar behavior offline. As Bumble wrote in a public statement, “While it’s a crime to pull your pants down in the streets, there was nothing stopping anyone from exposing themselves in your DMs, texts, or other channels.”
Since 2018, Bumble has been campaigning and working with legislators to resolve this gap in U.S. Law. Thanks to their work, Texas passed House Bill 2789 in 2019 which made it a Class C misdemeanor to electronically send someone sexually explicit images without their consent and punishable by a fine of up to $500. Following this, in April 2022, Virginia passed Senate Bill 493 which prescribes civil penalties for an adult who knowingly sends another adult sexually explicit images without their consent (it is already illegal under federal law to send obscene material to a minor, with penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine though some states also have specific laws that lessen the penalty if the sender is themself a minor.). Under Virginia Senate Bill 493, the offender could be required to pay the recipient of the image “actual damages or $500, whichever is greater, in addition to reasonable attorney fees and costs.” Bumble is currently rallying support for similar bills that are under consideration in California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
In addition to backing legislation, Bumble has incorporated protections from cyberflashing into the very design of their app. In 2019, they added a new feature which detects and automatically blurs nude images (a common-sense feature that should be standard across all tech platforms and products – something for which NCOSE advocates with social media companies!). The recipient is then informed that they’ve received something potentially inappropriate and can decide whether to view or block the image.
Cyberflashing has become an all too prevalent form of sexual harassment, as attested to not only by Bumble’s own data but other research as well. For example, a 2017 nationally representative U.S. survey found that 53% of women ages 18-29 reported having received an unsolicited sexually explicit image. A 2018 U.K. survey found that 40% of women ages 18-34 reported that someone who was not their romantic partner had sent them an unsolicited sexual photo of themselves, and 26% of men ages 18-34 reported experiencing this. NCOSE warmly commends Bumble for becoming an integral part of the solution to this form of sexual harassment that impacts so many people.
Thank you, Bumble, for your incredibly valuable, industry standard-setting commitment to ending online sexual harassment!
EDITORS NOTE: This NCOSE column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved. NCOSE’s Dignity Defense Award (formerly Dignity Defense Alert) is a campaign recognizing the people, companies, and nonprofits who are taking action to defend human dignity from any form of sexual abuse or exploitation. Read more here.