The first draft of the new Online Safety Bill will make ‘cyberflashing’ a criminal offence carrying up to two years in prison for those found guilty.
Cyberflashing, the act of sending unsolicited sexual images via social media, dating apps and other digital and data sharing platforms, has been on the rise for some time. It is extremely worrying that research conducted in 2020 found 76% of girls aged 12-18 had received unsolicited nude images of boys or men.
The proposed laws have been specifically designed to halt this trend by closing the existing legal loopholes and recategorising cyberflashing so that it’s treated as seriously as in-person flashing.
It is also hoped the new Bill will encourage victims to come forward more readily when they have been a victim of such crimes. It is widely recognised incidents of all forms of sexual harassment are still under-reported to police.
What measures will the Online Safety Bill introduce?
Under the Bill, anyone who sends a photo or film of a person’s genitals for either their own sexual gratification or to cause their victim humiliation, alarm or distress could be found guilty of cyberflashing.
The Bill will also give the police and the Crown Prosecution Service greater powers to prosecute people accused of the offence.
Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, 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.”
Mr Raab’s parliamentary colleague and the Government’s Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries agreed:
“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 being used to commit vile acts of cyberflashing. We are bringing the full weight on individuals who perpetrate this awful behaviour.”
Making cyberflashing an offence was only one of the Law Commission’s recommendations in ‘Modernising Communications Offences’, a review they recently published to bring a range of digital crimes – and potential solutions – more firmly into public view.
Alongside criminalising cyberflashing, the UK Government has also committed to make sending abusive emails, social media posts and WhatsApp messages and taking part in ‘pile-on’ harassment (the practice of targeting people with abusive messages via website comment sections) criminal offences too.