Men who engage in cyber-flashing by sending nude photographs to strangers will now face up to two years in prison and will be required to sign the sex offenders registry as a result of a legislation change in England and Wales.
When a person receives an unwanted sexual image on their mobile device from an unknown individual nearby via social media, messaging, or other sharing services such as Airdrop, it is known as cyber-flashing.
According to Mail Online, despite the conduct being made criminal in Scotland 12 years ago, there is currently no law in England and Wales that specifically tackles cyber-flashing.
However, there is already a push to incorporate cyber-flashing in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which will include penalties for indecent exposure in public.
It will be an offence for someone to expose themselves with the intention of causing ‘alarm or distress’.
The victim can be anyone, whether a stranger or someone known to the perpetrator.
The new proposal comes after researchers warned that a lack of thorough accountability and identity-checking measures are helping to fuel the online sexual harassment of young people.
Ministers had contemplated adding cyber-flashing to the Online Safety Bill – a draft legislation announced last week which will force web giants to protect users by cracking down on illegal activity taking place on their platforms.
It is understood that a cyber-flasher could still be found guilty if they send a picture of someone else’s genitals.
A study released last December by UCL Institute of Education found that non-consensual image-sharing practices were ‘particularly pervasive, and consequently normalised and accepted’ – contributing to ‘shockingly low’ rates of reporting online sexual abuse.
Researchers quizzed 144 boys and girls aged from 12 to 18 in focus groups, and a further 336 in a survey about digital image-sharing.
Thirty-seven per cent of the 122 girls surveyed had received an unwanted sexual picture or video online.
Three in four of the girls in the focus groups had also been sent an explicit photo of male genitals, with the majority of these ‘not asked for’.
Snapchat was the most common platform used for image-based sexual harassment, according to the survey findings.