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Cyberflashing’ to become a criminal offence

'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 practice typically involves offenders sending an unsolicited sexual image to people via social media or dating apps, but can also be over data sharing services such as Bluetooth and Airdrop. In some instances, a preview of the photo can appear on a person's device – meaning that even if the transfer is rejected victims are forced into seeing the image.

Research by Professor Jessica Ringrose from 2020 found that 76 percent of girls aged 12-18 had been sent unsolicited nude images of boys or men.

Ministers have confirmed that laws banning this behaviour will be included in the Government's Online Safety Bill alongside wide-ranging reforms to keep people safe on the internet.

The new offence will ensure cyberflashing is captured clearly by the criminal law – giving the police and Crown Prosecution Service greater ability to bring more perpetrators to justice. It follows similar recent action to criminalise upskirting and breastfeeding voyeurism with the Government determined to protect people, particularly women and girls, from these emerging crimes.

It follows a Law Commission review 'Modernising Communications Offences' which recommended that a new offence should be created.

Alongside the new cyberflashing offence, the Government has previously committed to creating three other new criminal offences through this Bill, tackling a wide range of harmful private and public online communication. These include sending abusive emails, social media posts and WhatsApp messages, as well as 'pile-on' harassment where many people target abuse at an individual such as in website comment sections.

The Online Safety Bill will also put more legal responsibility on social media platforms, search engines and other websites or apps which host user-generated content to tackle a range of illegal and harmful content on their services.

For the Law Commission report, click here.

17/3/22