UK Unveils New Cyber Flashing Law

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Lawmakers in the United Kingdom have made it a criminal offense to use a cell phone, dating app or social media to send unsolicited sexual images – a practice known as cyber flashing.

Under the terms of the United Kingdom’s new Online Safety Bill, individuals convicted of sharing an image or video of a person’s genitals for their own sexual gratification, or to cause another person humiliation, alarm or distress, could spend up to two years in prison.

The Bill, which will be published this week, also aims to hold technology firms accountable for promoting harmful behaviors and disseminating content depicting sexual abuse. Online platforms will be required to protect users from fraudulent adverts. In addition, commercial pornography sites will be required to subject people trying to access their content to an age verification check. 

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries tweeted: “Cyber flashing is an abusive, intimidating act that can have a lasting impact on victims.

“That’s why we’ve announced our move to criminalize cyber flashing in the Online Safety Bill. Flashing is a crime. Online flashing will be made one too.”

Cyber flashing has been illegal in Scotland since 2010. Under the new legislation, the act will also be a crime in England and Wales. 

“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,” said UK justice secretary Dominic Raab.

“Making cyber flashing a specific crime is the latest step, sending a clear message to perpetrators that they will face jail time.”

According to research published in 2020, three-quarters of British girls aged 12-18 have received unsolicited nude images of boys or men.

Prof Penney Lewis, criminal law commissioner at the Law Commission, said: “Reports of cyber flashing are rising worryingly. This offense will close loopholes in the existing law and ensure that cyber flashing is treated as seriously as in-person flashing.”

The criminalization of cyber flashing in the UK follows recent actions to outlaw upskirting – the act of taking a sexually intrusive photograph up someone’s skirt without their permission.

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