The law change could see people convicted of cyberflashing face up to two years in prison.
Cyberflashing is finally set to become a crime in England and Wales under new laws set to be introduced by the government.
The move – which will criminalise the act of using peer-to-peer wifi networks such as AirDrop to send unsolicited pictures of someone’s genitals – will see cyberflashing added to the Online Safety Bill, alongside other wide-ranging reforms designed at keeping people safe on the internet.
While it was reported last month that the act would be banned under the Sexual Offences Act instead of the Online Safety Bill due to delays with the latter, the initial plan will now go ahead.
Speaking about the changes, Justice Minister Victoria Atkins 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.”
Atkins continued: “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.”
According to The Times, this means that cyberflashing could carry a similar punishment to crimes such as upskirting – meaning perpetrators could be put on the sex offenders register and face up to two years in prison.
Prosecutors currently struggle to convict people for the act of cyberflashing because the existing legislation in place in England and Wales is hard to apply to the online world. This is very different to the situation in Scotland, where the act of cyberflashing was outlawed in 2009.
The move comes after a study published by academics at University College London and the University of Kent at the end of last year found that three in four young women have been sent sexual images on social media.
And while the practice of adult men sending unwanted sexual images to girls under 18 is categorised as a sexual offence, the experience is one shared by women of all ages; research by YouGov published in 2018 found that 40% of women aged 18-34 had received an unsolicited sexual photo from someone who was not their romantic partner.
The pandemic has also exacerbated the problem, with the UK’s Revenge Porn Helpline reporting that calls about explicit imagery being shared without consent rose by 87% between April and August 2020 compared to the previous year.
If you experience cyberflashing on public transport, report your case to Transport for London or British Transport Police. You can also report cyberstalking through GOV.UK. And anyone affected by online abuse can contact Women’s Aid.