‘Cyberflashing’ to become a criminal offence

‘Cyberflashing’ will become a new criminal offence with perpetrators facing up to two years behind bars under new laws to be introduced by the Government.

Mar 14, 2022
By Tony Thompson

The practice typically involves offenders sending an unsolicited sexual image 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 per cent of girls aged 12-18 had been sent unsolicited nude images of boys or men.

Ministers have now confirmed that laws banning this behaviour will be included in the Government’s Online Safety Bill alongside wide-ranging reforms to keep people safe on the internet.

The new offence 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. It follows similar recent action to criminalise upskirting and breastfeeding voyeurism with the Government determined to protect people, particularly women and girls, from these emerging crimes.

The change means that anyone who sends a photo or film of a person’s genitals, for the purpose of their own sexual gratification or to cause the victim humiliation, alarm or distress may face up to two years in prison.

British Transport Police Assistant Chief Constable Charlie Doyle said: “British Transport Police have always taken reports of cyber-flashing very seriously and we welcome any extra help in bringing more offenders to justice. We expect this new legislation will be a positive step in helping to drive out this unacceptable behaviour and increase judicial outcomes for victims.

“We know that all forms of sexual harassment are under-reported to police and I hope the new legislation and increased awareness will encourage more victims to come forward and tell us about what’s happened to them.”

Justice Minister Victoria Atkins said: “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.”

Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and 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.”

Alongside the new cyberflashing offence, the Government has previously committed to creating three other new criminal offences through this Bill, tackling a wide range of harmful private and public online communication. These include sending abusive emails, social media posts and WhatsApp messages, as well as ‘pile-on’ harassment where many people target abuse at an individual such as in website comment sections.

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