What counts as cyberflashing and what is the punishment?

Under the new law, victims of cyberflashing will receive lifelong anonymity from the point of speaking to police

A 39-year-old man in Essex will become the first in England and Wales to be sentenced for cyberflashing after it became a criminal offence earlier this year.

Nicholas Hawkes, from Basildon in Essex, sent unsolicited photos of his erect penis to a 15-year-old girl and a woman on February 9, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

Cyberflashing became a criminal offence on January 31 along with a number of other measures put in place to protect people online.

It follows campaigning from Love Island star Georgia Harrison who became a victim of image-based abuse last year.

What is cyberflashing?

Cyberflashing is the act of sending unsolicited explicit images, usually on social media or dating apps.

Pictures can also be shared via Bluetooth or airdrop, where recipients are often showed a preview of the image even if they don't accept it.

Under the new law, anybody who sends a photo or video of a person's genitals for the purpose of their own sexual gratification, or to cause the victims humiliation, alarm or distress, may be charged.

What is the punishment?

Defendants found guilty of cyberflashing face up to two years in prison.

What happens to victims?

All victims who make a police report relating to cyberflashing will receive lifelong anonymity from the point of speaking to authorities.

When did cyberflashing become illegal?

It was made illegal in Scotland in 2010, and was part of the 2023 Online Safety Act in England and Wales.

The new measures came into place following a string of high-profile campaigns and data from 2020 that showed 76% of girls aged 12 to 18 had been sent unsolicited nude images of boys or men.

YouGov research from 2018 similarly found that four in 10 young women aged 18 to 34 have been sent unsolicited sexual images.

What else is now illegal under the Act?

The Act criminalised several forms of online abuse.

This included so-called 'epilepsy-trolling', which is purposefully sending flashing images with the intention of harming people with epilepsy.

The sending of death threats or threats of serious harm was also criminalised, and perpetrators could face a sentence of up to five years under a new threatening communications offence.

The sending of harmful false information that could cause non-trivial psychological or physical harm to the recipient is also now a punishable offence.

Some legal experts warn that as has been demonstrated in revenge porn cases, it may not always be easy to prove the motives to have been causing distress or sexual gratification.

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