When violence prevention educator Emily Murphy teaches students about the risks of sending and receiving explicit images, often called sexting, she always emphasizes the idea of consent.
Murphy, a violence prevention educator with HAVEN who has been in the field for 18 years, works with students in Rockingham and Strafford schools. She is one of many New Hampshire sexual violence prevention educators and school resource officers working to address the issue of teens sending non-consensual images before it becomes a problem in adulthood.
A new law gives added urgency to the message.
“Consent is a big part, whether it’s in person or not in person, and making sure of the idea of respecting other peoples’ bodily autonomy and the idea of ‘my body belongs to me,’” Murphy said. “The idea of sending naked images of yourself has been normalized by adults. For pre-teens and teens, they almost think it’s like flirting even though it’s definitely not flirting.”
Sending explicit images of oneself to another person without the recipient’s consent is now illegal in New Hampshire after Gov. Chris Sununu signed an update to a New Hampshire law to make “cyberflashing” a misdemeanor.
The legislation amends New Hampshire’s public indecency, indecent exposure and lewdness law, which already makes flashing and lewd exposure a crime in person, and applies it to digital communications. Now, flashing someone electronically will be treated the same as if a person has exposed themselves in public.
The law specifically targets intimate images sent to people who are age 16 or older, since it is already a felony to send similar content to children under 16.
Receiving unwanted photos of another person’s genitals has become so common, particularly for young women, they’re sometimes called “dick pics.” More than half (53%) of young women ages 18 to 29 say they’ve received explicit images they did not ask for, according to a Pew Research Center study. Texas made sending unwanted sexual images a misdemeanor in 2019. Similar legislation has been introduced in California.
Throughout the legislative process, the bill has been supported by New Hampshire sexual violence prevention organizations like New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, who say the bill closes a “loophole” in the law that punished sending unwanted sexual images to kids under 16, but not to older teens or adults.
Murphy says she will be making sure her students know about the updated legal consequences of cyberflashing, and their options if they receive an unsolicited message, long before they turn 16. Murphy says she is glad that laws are being updated to cover the many interactions that take place online today, especially between young people.
“When I talk to students about harassment and bullying, most of that happens through social media and cyber stuff,” Murphy said. “So much of it is online, we need to make sure we have laws reflecting what the kids are mostly encountering nowadays.”
The updated law will go into effect in January 2023.
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.