Of course women don’t report cyber-flashing, we are conditioned to expect such behaviour

We still do not have equality in public spaces: until that is fixed, crimes like cyber-flashing will go under the radar

Sophie Gallagher
Tuesday 18 February 2020 20:18 GMT
Only a small percentage of those affected by cyber-flashing are likely to come forward
Only a small percentage of those affected by cyber-flashing are likely to come forward (iStock)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Travelling home from work on the London Underground the last thing I expected to pop up on my phone screen was 120 unsolicited sexual images. The graphic pictures had been sent via AirDrop (a Bluetooth and Wifi-enabled feature on Apple devices, which only works within 30 feet of the recipient’s phone) completely without my permission.

I hadn’t had to press any buttons or give any approval before the images appeared on my screen for me – and the teenagers sitting either side of me – to see hours before the watershed. Now I had to sit in silence hoping the sender didn’t know who I was, that they wouldn’t follow me off the train at my stop, and that they didn’t have anything more sinister planned.

Since that incident three years ago I have now spoken to nearly 100 other women across the UK who have experienced the same cyber-flashing behaviour. The victims vary in age from teenagers to pensioners, were in different locations when they were targeted (public transport, restaurants, lecture theatres, the street), and their reactions ranged from laughing it off to being so scared they never took the same train again.

But one thing they almost all had in common: they didn’t report it. New data released by the British Transport Police (BTP) shows they are not alone. Although the number of official cyber-flashing reports has almost doubled from 34 in 2018 to 66 in 2019, all the evidence suggests this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The BTP say they think women don’t report because they are worried it “won’t be taken seriously enough” or they “don’t know where to turn” but this fails to take into consideration the daily conditioning women experience in a society that says this type of predatory microaggression is to be expected.

Cyber-flashing is the thin end of the wedge when it comes to sexual violence, but the reporting pattern is the same as all other crimes of this nature – only a small percentage are likely to come forward. Rape Crisis estimates only 15 per cent of those who experience sexual violence of any kind in England and Wales actually go on to report this to the police.

When faced with the fact only 1.7 per cent of reported rapes are actually prosecuted, who can blame them? It seems logical that women would presume lesser forms of sexual violence, such as cyber-flashing, are even less likely to be prosecuted or have any tangiable outcome.

Beyond the unpromising statistics women in the UK are also conditioned from early childhood to tolerate this type of gendered behaviour and to dismiss it even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

The wolf whistles at the bus stop on the way to school – more than one in three girls in the UK has been sexually harassed while wearing their school uniform – the “smile, it might never happen” comments on a night out, the well-meaning parent telling you to wear a slightly longer skirt “just to be safe”, and the fear of walking home in the dark alone.

Women still do not have equality in public spaces. You only need to consider the victim-blaming that happens when women suffer sexual crimes – asking the question, why did you not heed the advice you have been conditioned to take?

The lack of cyber-flashing reports is no surprise when you think about what women are told daily – this is the price you have to pay to exist, and participate in, society alongside men. Until we can address this, crimes like cyber-flashing will remain hidden.

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