Unsolicited pictures of male genitalia (or dick pics) are a form of sexual harassment. In a previous UK YouGov poll, it was found that 54 percent of women (18-24) surveyed had received a dick pic, and 47 percent of this figure was unsolicited. This poll also highlighted that 46 percent of millennial women who received these pictures first did so before the age of 18.
Currently, in the UK, it is categorized as indecent and a sexual offense if an adult man sends a dick pic to under 18s and it is classed as an illegal act for minors to produce images of themselves, as it is classed as child pornography. Despite these illegal restrictions, young people are still being sent these images and researchers have published a study in the journal Sex Roles that investigates the experience of teenage girls (11-18).
In the study, the researchers conducted workshops in seven diverse secondary schools in the UK. This allowed the 144 participants to explain and physically draw their experiences of receiving and sharing images on different social media apps.
It was found that 76 percent of the girls in the study had received a dick pic and 70 percent had been asked to send nude pics – often this request was after being sent an unsolicited dick pic to try and initiate “trades”. Most of these images were often from unknown senders, however, some were sent from the girl’s networked peers, “friends of friends” or peers known only online.
Highlighted in this study was the problem with Snapchat – often the first time the girls ever received these types of pictures were on this app, when there were no privacy functions enabled. The app helps normalize this content as people can remain anonymous and the content is only available for a short period of time.
Often it is easier for a young person to block the senders or ignore any messages rather than report them to authorities. The surveyed girls described a normalization of the pictures as you “get used to it” and “laugh and carry on”.
In schools, there is stigmatism associated with getting sent a dick pic, and it is often assumed that people who receive a picture partook in a trade scenario and have sent a nude image back. This victim-blaming and shaming had impacted the girls emotionally and further made it difficult for them to report the harassment.
In a small portion of the girls, the pictures were not viewed negatively, and receiving unwanted dick pics was seen as a badge of desire. Despite this, there were still some sexual double standards displayed, and when some girls ask for the images, they faced stigma and shame not shown to their male counterparts.
Overall, this type of research highlights the need for platform-specific guidance on privacy settings and reporting, but in such a way that girls being sent the images are not re-victimized or made responsible for managing their own harassment. Also, more education is needed as reporting was limited because many of the young people did not understand that non-consensual dick pics are a form of harassment.