What is cyberflashing? Term meaning, is it illegal in the UK and law to make it a crime - explained

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Cyberflashing - online indecent exposure, is often done through AirDrop in public places such as buses and trains

Cyberflashing is to become a criminal offence with perpetrators facing up to two years in jail.

The Government had previously announced plans to outlaw it.

Now ministers have confirmed laws banning the sending of unsolicited sexual images will be included in the Online Safety Bill alongside other reforms aimed at keeping people safe on the internet.

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What is cyberflashing and what is being done to tackle it? This is what you need to know.

The Government has announced it plans to outlaw cyber flashing.The Government has announced it plans to outlaw cyber flashing.
The Government has announced it plans to outlaw cyber flashing.

What is cyberflashing?

Cyberflashing is where a person digitally sends an unsolicited sexual image, usually of genitals, to another device nearby without their consent.

It can happen via social media, and people have also used file sharing function AirDrop. Cyberflashing can also take place entirely through Bluetooth.

The term was first used in 2015 when a female commuter was sent two obscene images via AirDrop.

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It often happens in public places such as trains and buses due to the short range of the technology used to send it.

In its announcement about the law the Government cited research by Professor Jessica Ringrose from 2020 which found that 76 percent of girls aged 12-18 had been sent unsolicited nude images of boys or men.

Is it illegal?

Currently in England and Wales there is no specific existing law to deal with cyberflashing, though that is set to change with the recent announcement. It has been illegal in Scotland since 2010.

Boris Johnson previously said he believed it should be illegal, saying: “I don’t care whether flashing is cyber or not – it should be illegal.”

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Last year The Law Commission said cyber flashing should be made a sexual offence, with a new law created covering “pile-on” harassment over the internet.

It said existing rules governing online abusive behaviour are not working as effectively as they should, and it made a raft of recommendations.

What has been said about the announcement?

The new offence, which will apply to England and Wales, will ensure cyberflashing is captured clearly by the criminal law.

It follows similar recent action to criminalise upskirting and breastfeeding voyeurism.

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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.”

Professor Penney Lewis, Criminal Law Commissioner at the Law Commission 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 cyberflashing are rising worryingly. This offence will close loopholes in the existing law and ensure that cyberflashing is treated as seriously as in-person flashing.”

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.

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“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.”

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