What is Cyberflashing and why is it being criminalised?

New report recommends that the unsolicited sending of explicit images and videos online be criminalised under the Sexual Offences Act.

A new report by the Law Commission has recommended that cyberflashing—the unsolicited sending of images or videos of obscene nature—should be criminalised.

This will put such harmful online behaviour in the Sexual Offences Act which covers rape, pedophilia and indecent exposure.

Flashing, an offline version of cyberflashing —when a person exposes or flashes their genitals to another with the intention of causing distress or harm—is already criminalised under the Act.

What is Cyberflashing?

The Law Commission which is responsible for reviewing legislation, in its report, defines cyberflashing as:

the sending of images or video recordings of genitals, for example, ‘dick pics’ sent via AirDrop.

Victims of cyberflashing are not the subject of the picture or video footage, but they are the recipient.

The explicit images or video footage would not have to be specifically of the sender’s genitals for them to be found guilty of cyberflashing.

In most cases, victims of cyberflashing do not know the identity of the sender, with the explicit content being sent via peer-to-peer (P2P) platforms like AirDrop rather than by email or the internet.

In most cases, victims of cyberflashing do not know the identity of the sender Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

According to the report, this gives the recipient

the twofold threat of a sender who is not only anonymous but also proximate.

The report also states that cyberflashing is a particular problem on certain dating apps as well as social media. It is an 'offence directed at a form of behaviour that, like exposure, causes real harm and is accompanied by a clearly wrongful purpose.'

How widespread is it?

Cyberflashing cases have been on the rise since the first reported case in 2015 when 34 year-old Lorraine Crighton-Smith had pictures of a stranger’s penis sent to her phone by someone near her on a train.

A University of Leicester report found that a third of women have been cyberflashed and a survey by the safer internet charity Glitch found that 17% of 'women or non-binary people had been sent unsolicited pornography in June or July 2020.'

Here is what to do if you find yourself as a victim of cyberflashing:

First, take a screenshot of the material with your device as evidence and then swiftly delete it.

You can then discreetly report the incident to British Transport Police by texting 61016. Or, in an emergency, you should contact 999.

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