Cyberflashing: What is it and is it illegal?

Online Safety Bill to include new law that means cyberflashing will carry the same maximum sentence as indecent exposure

Olivia Petter
Monday 14 March 2022 16:03
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Cyberflashing is set to become a criminal offence, it has been announced.

A new law banning the practice of sending unsolicited sexual images it to be included in the government’s Online Safety Bill.

The news follows various campaigns that have been launched to criminalise cyberflashing, including one from the dating app Bumble, which published data that found one in four women believed it became more prevalent during the pandemic.

The app’s research also found that, in the past year, nearly half of women (48 per cent) aged 18 to 24 had received a sexual photo they did not ask for.

Meanwhile, research by Professor Jessica Ringrose from 2020 found that 76 per cent of girls aged 12-18 had been sent unsolicited nude images of boys or men.

Here’s everything you need to know about cyberflashing.

What is cyberflashing?

Cyberflashing is the act of sending unsolicited obscene images, for example via AirDrop.

The Cambridge dictionary describes it as follows: “The act of someone using the internet to send an image of their naked body, especially the genitals (= sexual organs), to someone that they do not know and who has not asked them to do this.”

Is cyberflashing illegal?

Cyberflashing has been illegal in Scotland since 2010, however, there had been no specific legislation against it in England and Wales.

On Sunday 13 March, it was announced that cyberflashing would become a criminal offence, with those found guilty facing up to two years in prison.

The secretary of state for justice, Dominic Raab, said:

“Protecting women and girls is my top priority which is why we’re keeping sexual and violent offenders behind bars for longer, giving domestic abuse victims more time to report assaults and boosting funding for support services to £185m per year.

“Making cyberflashing a specific crime is the latest step - sending a clear message to perpetrators that they will face jail time.”

How common is cyberflashing?

In 2019, the British Transport Police recorded 66 reports of unsolicited photographs sent via the filesharing service AirDrop.

However, other surveys, such as the one conducted by Bumble, indicate that the problem is much more common than people think.

Claire Barnett, executive director of UN Women UK, said: “Cyberflashing is a pervasive issue that, like other forms of sexual harassment, disproportionately targets and impacts women and girls.

“As we build back post-pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to reconsider how we use and interact in public spaces - both online and offline. Digital spaces will only become a greater part of our daily lives, so for the sake of future generations it’s crucial that we get this right now, with preventative, education-driven solutions to online violence.”

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