It's official: cyberflashing will become a criminal offence in England and Wales. The government have confirmed that under the new Online Safety Bill those who send unsolicited sexual images to people will face up to two years in jail.
Confirming the news, Justice Minister Victoria Atkins, stated: "It is unacceptable that women and girls travelling on public transport, or just going about their day-to-day lives, are being subjected to this despicable practice. Cyberflashing can cause deep distress to victims and our changes ensure police and prosecutors have the clarity they need to tackle it and keep people safe."
Cyberflashing is the practice that typically involves offenders sending an unsolicited sexual image (normally a dick pic) to people via social media or dating apps, but can also be over data sharing services such as Bluetooth and Airdrop. In some instances, a preview of the photo can appear on a person’s device – meaning that even if the transfer is rejected victims are forced into seeing the image.
Research by Professor Jessica Ringrose from 2020 found that 76% of girls aged 12-18 had been sent unsolicited nude images of boys or men. Other data shows that 41% of women between 18 and 36 years old "have been sent an unsolicited photo of a man's private parts."
It is precisely the non-consensual nature of this behavior that makes it violent and inappropriate, as confirmed by many testimonies from the victims. In Scotland, where cyberflashing has been classified as a sex crime for over a decade, police have seen cases of criminals responsible for serious sex crimes who have previously been reported for sending unwanted photos.
The Law Commission has in the past recommended including cyberflashing in the Sexual Offenses Act 2003. The bill highlights the hostile intent of those who send "genital pictures or videos": they want to cause alarm, anguish or humiliation. That said, according to some experts, it may not be so easy for prosecutors to demonstrate such intent, given the frequency with which this behavior is normalised and trivialised. However, the Online Safety Bill will ensure cyberflashing is captured clearly by the criminal law – giving the police and Crown Prosecution Service greater ability to bring more perpetrators to justice.
This is a great step forward that follows similar recent action to criminalise upskirting and breastfeeding voyeurism in an attempt to protect people, particularly women and girls, from these emerging crimes.
Credit photo: GettyImages
Written by Miriam Tagini