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‘Cyberflashing’: What is it and is it illegal?

cyber flashing
Source: Go Digital (via Flickr)

By Libbi Mullin | Contributor

Cyberflashing underlines the use of peer-to-peer Wi-Fi networks such as Airdrop to enable perpetrators to send inappropriate images of themselves or others to strangers. It has been seen that cyberflashing often occurs on public transport, against the will of the receiver. In 2015, Lorraine Crighton-Smith fell victim to cyber flashing after receiving unsolicited images of a stranger’s penis whilst on a train in London.  

This offence has been brought to light in recent times with its occurrence becoming more regular, resulting in the government deciding to use the Sexual Offences Act to make the offence illegal. Once the legislation has passed, perpetrators can be seen to face up to two years behind bars serving prison time. Upskirting, a similar crime, also faces the same punishment.  

Justice minister, Victoria Atkins, “absolutely supports” cyberflashing being made a crime in the UK, stating, ”we very much understand the need for speed and, indeed, the wish of women and girls around the country for the issue to be dealt with quickly and effectively.” It was found in a survey held by the UN Women UK 2021 YouGov, that “14% of women in the UK experienced the sharing of suggestive, indecent, or unsolicited content online or in person.”  

Despite there being no existing law in England and Wales to deal with cyber flashing at the moment, it has been illegal in Scotland since 2010, with both Wales and England looking to follow suit. The Law Society report has described cyberflashing as a ’form of sexual harassment, involving coercive sexual intrusion by men into women’s everyday lives.’ With cyberflashing becoming a regular occurrence on public transport, it remains difficult to identify the offender in such a crowded space, if the receiver’s Airdrop settings are set to ’everyone’ this allows for offenders outside of the victims contact list to anonymously send indecent images. Therefore, it is possible to avoid falling victim to such atrocities by limiting those who have access to your Airdrop via Bluetooth.  

Despite there being ways to avoid receiving unsolicited images, one cannot deny that the offender looking to cyberflash is the one at blame. Although we cannot guarantee a complete end to cyberflashing, the legislation being put in place by the UK government looking to criminalise the offence shows great progression in terms of online restrictions being put in place. 

If you do receive an unwanted sexual image, it is of benefit to know that you can screenshot the image and contact British Transport Police on 101, or via text on 61016.

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