Op-ed: Unsolicited sexual photos are sexual harassment

There are an estimated 37 million monthly Snapchat users, according to statista.com. Photo from docs.snapchat.com

A male student sent unsolicited sexually explicit photos to another student.

This may seem like one disturbing event created by an outlier, male student. However, this doesn’t represent one situation that occurred between two students, but many parallel alleged situations experienced by many students.

It is an epidemic, a psychological phenomenon of sexual harassment that needs to stop.

Fourteen students said they received an unsolicited sexual photo, according to an Echo poll of 44 respondents.

Dr. Jennifer Siciliani, professor of psychology at UMSL, said, “What they (men who send these photos) are being, is offensive, abusive and victimizing.”

“Offensive, abusive and victimizing” may sound extreme for a picture. It isn’t. Despite the contrary belief of obviously some men, most people don’t want to receive an unsolicited sexual photo and feel “really uncomfortable,” “disturbed,” shameful and unsafe when they do.

A student who alleged she was sent an unsolicited photo said, “I’ve never met anyone who wanted unsolicited sexual pictures.”

Eleven of aforementioned 14 students said they received the photo via Snapchat.

Snapchat has created the perfect breeding ground for unaccountable sexual misconduct.

With the increase of allegations comes an increase of skepticism of those allegations which bring less accountability for the actions of actual harassers.

When a large number of sexual harassment cases involve the use of Snapchat, where the photo and videos i.e. the evidence disappears after a handful of seconds and only with a subpoena or a warrant can be recovered, it becomes a dangerous situation.

In a system like this, harassers don’t feel accountable and continue their behavior without consequences or apologizing. These unapologetic men only leave the harassed to blame themselves.

A lot of the time these women in this situation feel like seeking accountability by reporting the misconduct does more harm than good.

Twelve out of the aforementioned 14 students said they didn’t report anything to the administration or police.
One of the 12 said, “The administration wouldn’t have done anything about it.”

Two others said reporting leads to victim shaming.

Whether these claims are accurate or not, this mistrust of the administration and police is a problem that allows for a lack of accountability and perpetuates sexual harassment.

The administration cannot comment on any the disciplinary actions of any individual cases, so there is no way to see if any alleged harassers are being held accountable.

A student who said they were sent explicit photos and reported the incident said, “I should have the right to know what is happening to my harasser.”

Forty-six percent of women between the ages of 18 and 25 have received an unsolicited photo of a penis, according to a YouGov poll of 877 respondents. Seventy-three percent of these first received a “d**k pic” before they turned 18.

The first conclusion to jump to is men misinterpret signals leading to them sending graphic images of themselves.

Siciliani said, “[With] anyone outside of men trying to be abusive, [there] is a misinterpretation [in the situation].”

Siciliani said men think that they will get some kind of “sexual access” by sending these photos. The “misinterpretation” is somehow sending a photo will give men “sexual access.”

In a lot of the cases where men are sending explicit sexual photos, they also pressure the receiver to send explicit sexual photos back. Men should not pressure anyone to send any photo. This is also sexual harassment.

Nearly two women receive unsolicited pictures of penises to every one man who sends a picture according to the YouGov survey. They admitted to and knew they were sending those photos and did it anyway. The gap between senders and receivers must mean there are repeat offenders or/and people are lying. This is astonishing.

When sending pictures of something that is not socially acceptable to show in public, the only green light is explicit consent.

If they fail to get explicit consent, men need to be more receptive to the negative reaction of women and realize it is a chance for growth and sympathy. If this happened, maybe there would be fewer repeat offenders.

This conduct is pretty clear to be a bare minimum with all non-sexual conduct but not with sexual conduct. It is clear that understanding or recognizing these principles is not the problem. Something else is causing these men to throw these principles out the window and ignore people’s humanity.

It doesn’t seem like treating the urge is an option in this situation. We don’t really know what exactly that urge is or how we would stop it. Men have to fight any urge by understanding the consequences of their actions, how they could be “offensive, abusive and victimizing.”

Men who have sent unsolicited photos of their genitals need to recognize their wrongdoing and apologize. An apology can go a long way.

Institutions need to create paths where alleged harassers can work towards sincere apology and a commitment to never be harassers again. The school does have a “restorative practice” curriculum for students with in-school suspension to help students better understand their behavior and its impact through dialogue and visual presentations.

There always needs to be a path to recovery and redemption without ignoring the seriousness of harasser’s actions. Without such a path, people will feel isolated and continue their behavior, and with ignoring the seriousness of the actions, harassers won’t truly understand the consequences of their behavior.

This is a delicate balance that is very hard to enforce, but harassers need punishments, and others need to support the path of people who have harassed someone towards never committing this kind of behavior again. Whether the school is balancing these properties is unclear from an outsider’s perspective to a very opaque process.

Safe Connections crisis helpline: 314-531-2003

Cole Schnell – Editor-in-chief

This is Cole Schnell’s third year on ECHO staff.  Last year, he was the junior editor, advertising/business manager his sophomore year, and he made several contributions while taking journalism class his freshman year.

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