They are a form of assault that mostly female recipients should not endure
The law can sometimes be an ass or, in this case, a dick.
It is unquestionably a crime for a man to show up at a stranger’s house and expose his penis. It is a crime for a man to sneak into a woman’s bedroom and drop his pants. No question, it is a crime for a man to corner a journalist in the newsroom or show up at an ex-girlfriend’s place of employment and whip out his member. And no law degree is needed to determine that a man flashing a train car full of people is illegal.
But what about doing the same thing online? What about dropping a picture of a penis in an unsuspecting stranger’s inbox?
Yes, we have a problem with dick pics, and it is time that the law caught up with reality.
Sending unsolicited and unwanted dick pics is not generally considered criminal conduct despite the harm inherent in this type of unwanted communication.
While anyone who exposes himself to a person under the age of 16 is guilty of a criminal offence, the same protection does not apply to older teens or adults.
Indecency laws which rely on the amorphous “contemporary national community tolerance” standard, at first blush, would seem to cover dick picks. Still, indecency is limited to public places, not private messages.
The same problem exists for public nudity laws.
Harassment laws can capture some of the most egregious cases involving sending unsolicited intimate images. Still, there are often problems proving intent if the contact is not repeated or explicitly threatening.
In most cases, dick pics sent by private message fall through the criminal law cracks.
And ironically, although it is probably not a crime to send an unsolicited dick pic, it is most definitely a crime for the recipient of that picture to repost it or send it to anyone else.
The current law not only fails to protect women but can also punish them for speaking out about unwanted exposure to a random stranger’s dick.
And this is a problem with men. In the insightful documentary Hi, This Is My Penis, Kim Lévesque-Lizotte details the gendered and harmful epidemic of disseminating unsolicited and unwanted intimate images.
The numbers are staggering but probably not surprising if you are a woman who has spent anytime online.
A 2017 study found that 1 in 4 millennial men have sent a dick pic, and almost a quarter of those men did it without consent. The same survey found that 53 percent of millennial women have received a dick pic and that 78 percent of the time, the penile pictures were unsolicited.
Why do men feel compelled to send pictures of their penises?
A 2019 study of over 1,000 men exploring the motivations behind sending unsolicited genital pictures revealed varied reasons. The predominant driver seems transactional (if I show you mine, maybe you will show me yours). Still, other motivations were far more disturbing and included: sexual gratification, revenge, power, control, and simple misogyny.
Unsurprisingly, men who sent unsolicited dick pics demonstrated higher narcissism and hostile sexism levels than their non-sending counterparts.
Meanwhile, the harm and trauma created by unsolicited dick pics are real.
A recipient’s most private places can become tainted by unwanted images. Women in their homes can receive these unwanted images late at night when they are alone. They can be received at work. Or at the gym. Or while eating breakfast or putting kids to bed. Without any notice. Without any warning.
Simply put, many women experience this level of intrusion and loss of privacy and control as a form of assault and sexual violence.
Dick pics disseminated and transferred to nearby devices over file-sharing applications like Apple’s Airdrop are even scarier. Imagine sitting on the subway and receiving a notification that someone close by just uploaded a picture of their penis to your phone. They are nearby, watching, enjoying it.
As in everything sexual, consent is critical. But there can be no consent when the image is unsolicited.
Criminalizing this behaviour would have to be done with great care to avoid unintended consequences. But no one should have to accept it as a fact of life that they will be flashed with a stranger’s penis when all they wanted to see was the latest cute cat video.
It is time for the Criminal Code to slide into the DMs of any man who thinks it is appropriate or harmless to flash his dick at an unsuspecting woman in person or virtually.