Cyber-flashing to Become a Criminal Offence

The benefits of the internet, which cuts across connectivity, information sharing, communication, entertainment, remote working, etc are not without their shortcomings. Cyber-flashing is of the many hazards encountered by internet users.

Cyber-flashing entails where a person digitally sends an unsolicited sexual image to people via social media or dating apps, it can also be sent 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.

Cyber-flashing will become a new criminal offence with perpetrators facing up to two years behind bars under new laws to be introduced by the Government.

According to a press release by the UK government, Professor Jessica Ringrose’s 2020 research found that 76 percent of girls aged 12-18 had been sent unsolicited nude images of boys or men and YouGov research from 2018 found that four in ten young women aged 18-34 have been sent unsolicited sexual images, and the ministers have confirmed that laws banning this behaviour will be included in the Government’s landmark Online Safety Bill alongside wide-ranging reforms to keep people safe on the internet. 

As seen in a draft copy of the Bill, there are plans for cyber-flashing to be included in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This will ensure cyber-flashing 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 actions to criminalise upskirting and breastfeeding voyeurism with the Government determined to protect people, particularly women and girls, from these emerging crimes.

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According to Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor, and Secretary of State for Justice, 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 cyber-flashing a specific crime is the latest step – sending a clear message to perpetrators that they will face jail time. 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. It follows a Law Commission review ‘Modernising Communications Offences’ which recommended that a new offence should be created.

Digital Secretary, Nadine Dorries said, tech has the power to bring people together and make our lives better, but it can also enable heinous behaviour from those who wish to abuse, harm, and harass. The forthcoming Online Safety Bill will force tech companies to stop their platforms from being used to commit vile acts of cyber-flashing. We are bringing the full weight on individuals who perpetrate this awful behaviour.

Victoria Atkins, Justice Minister 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.

Criminal Law Commissioner at the Law Commission, Professor Penney Lewis said, whilst the online world offers important opportunities to share ideas and engage with one another, it has also increased the scope for abuse and harm. Reports of cyber-flashing are rising worryingly. This offence will close loopholes in the existing law and ensure that cyber-flashing is treated as seriously as in-person flashing.

British Transport Police Assistant Chief Constable Charlie Doyle said the 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 the 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.

The press release also states that alongside the new cyber-flashing 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.

The Online Safety Bill will also put more legal responsibility on social media platforms, search engines, and other websites or apps which host user-generated content to tackle a range of illegal and harmful content on their services. The new cyber-flashing offence will apply to England and Wales. 

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