Last week, the Finnish justice ministry announced that it will draft and propose legislation that would make sending unsolicited nudes a criminal offence.
If the legislation passes, offenders could face a fine or up to six months of prison time, depending on how severe the sentence is. It would also expand the legal definition of rape to include nonconsensual sex, whereas the current definition requires physical violence or threat of violence. The proposed legislation comes within a larger movement in the Nordic countries to update often outdated sexual violence and harrasment laws.
In the U.S., states like California and New York have proposed similar laws, and in 2019 Texas legislators–after lobbying by dating app Bumble, which also played a role in the California proposal–passed a law which made the sending of unsolicited nudes punishable with a fine of up to $500.
Sending unsolicited nudes (often dick pics sent to women from narcissistic and misogynistic men) is not only commonplace and by definition non-consensual, but also often dehumanizing, traumatic, and can come hand-in-hand with offline harassment. For example, sending nudes via iPhone’s AirDrop feature has become an unsettling trend, especially in crowded public places like public transit.
“There is a common and widely shared view in Finland that punishments for sexual harassment, rape and other sexual crimes need to be stronger,” Matias Mäkynen, a member of the Finnish Legal Affairs committee partially responsible for the legislation and MP for the Social Democratic Party, wrote to Motherboard in an email. “This is based on numerous cases reported by the media in which penalties have been questioningly mild, and the MeToo movement in Finland, which has intensified discussions around consent.”
Mäkynen said that about one-fifth of sexual crimes are reported, and one-fifth of those result in a legal judgement. “Our party argues that in order to protect everyone from sexual crimes we need better legislation and stricter punishments, as well as a healthier culture towards the victims of sexual crimes, including online harassment,” he said.
Laws like the one that Finland’s justice ministry is proposing can be a step in the right direction, says Honza Cervenka, a lawyer working for McAlister Olivarius, a law firm specializing in revenge porn and cyberbullying. But, he cautioned, they’re not a panacea. The police still need to do their part, and that’s far from a guarantee.
“My reaction to these sorts of laws is mixed,” he told Motherboard over the phone. “The problem with just putting a law on the books like that is that, in order for it to be effective, you need to do a lot more than just convince the majority of legislators in Parliament to vote for it. It takes working with the police force to have them actually know about the new offence, then to understand it, and finally of course to know when it’s appropriate to charge somebody with that offense. We still to this day have problems with police officers not advising clear victims of revenge pornography properly through the system.”
Mäkynen agreed that legislative changes alone are not going to fix the problem. He pointed to social media information campaigns by police and increased funding for law enforcement as examples of other measures the government is taking.
Cervenka said that these are important measures, but there needs to be a civil statute for sending unsolicited nudes. This would mean that on top of the offenders being fined, victims could get compensation for damages.
Still, fighting online sexual violence and harrasment can be challenging. Oftentimes it can be difficult to know the identity of perpetrators, especially when coming from fake accounts, or in the case of AirDropping, when coming from people in crowded spaces like public transport.
There are also questions about whether such laws could constitute an overregulation of sexual speech, or whether they could be weaponized to harass sex workers. In regards to the latter, Mäkynen told Motherboard that he would make sure these concerns are discussed during the legislative process.
“It’s right that people are debating these laws to make sure they pass constitutional muster. Certainly, it’s a tough balance to strike,” Cervenka says. “As with any law, we could think of hypotheticals where imposing a penalty could lead to a problematic result. But, I think for the vast majority of cases, it’s a nude photo that is either solicited or is not solicited, that is either welcome or not welcome.”
“I think the primary mission behind these types of laws is a sound one,” he added.