Cyberflashing, the practice of sending non-consensual, explicit pics via messaging apps or Airdrop will soon become illegal in the UK, with perpetrators risking up to two years in jail.
It happens more often than you’d think. According to recent research, 3 in 4 girls in the UK have been sent unsolicited nude images of boys or men, and 4 in 10 women aged between 18 and 36 “have been sent an unsolicited photo of a man’s private parts” — although only 22% of men in the same age group admit to ever sending a penis photo; so either these men are “working” overtime and sending lots of pics, or more men are doing it but not admitting. Women are almost always more likely to receive such pics than men.
This type of harassment tends to often fly underreported or ridiculed. “LOL, do people actually do this” seems to be a common response, but this is no laughing matter — or at least English authorities think so.
“‘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,” the official announcement reads.
“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.” The offense will be included in the upcoming Online Safety Bill, along with other reforms.
The move is part of a broader effort in the UK to criminalize sexual harassment. Recently, UK authorities also banned upskirting (the practice of taking a picture under another person’s clothing without their knowledge) and breastfeeding voyeurism (taking photos of breastfeeding mothers).
The UK is also tightening laws on online behavior. Other offenses the same bill will criminalize publishing hoax bomb threats, sending messages that convey threats of serious harm, or sending messages with the intent of causing serious psychological harm or emotional distress. The new bill will also require online platforms to protect users from fraudulent ads and will include a much more controversial bill that will force commercial pornography sites to carry out age checks on people trying to access their content.
While the tightening regulations around cyberflashing and upskirting have been hailed as a victory against harassment, the age consent part is considered a privacy minefield, as it would ask internet users to supply their credit card or ID or confirm their age via a third-party service.
It’s noteworthy that cyberflashing has been banned in Scotland for over a decade, although the vast majority of it still goes unpunished, so enforcing the law is still a challenge. It’s also been banned in Singapore since 2019, along with upskirt photography and revenge porn.