It is time the Government made cyber-flashing a criminal offence to “ensure that the law catches up with technology,” a Conservative MP has said.
Fay Jones warned there is evidence to show cyber-flashing – where a person digitally sends an unsolicited sexual image, usually of their genitals – is a “gateway offence to more serious acts of violence”.
The MP for Brecon and Radnorshire said it can happen via social media or “where an image is received in a public place on your device just because your Bluetooth or AirDrop happens to be on”.
It’s time that we made cyber-flashing a criminal offence on a par with its physical counterpart and to ensure that the law catches up with technologyFay Jones MP
She also paid tribute to The Inbetweeners actress Emily Atack, 32, saying: “I explained that I had sent her a message on Instagram asking to work with her on this campaign.
“She apologised to me because she never saw the message because her account is so deluged with indecent images.”
Ms Atack, who played Charlotte Hinchcliffe in the comedy TV series, in October described receiving “hundreds” of unsolicited sexual images on Instagram.
Joining an anti-cyber-flashing campaign run by the women’s magazine Grazia, she said: “I receive countless abusive and sexually charged messages every single day. At first, I tried to simply laugh it off. But it’s just not funny any more.”
Speaking during her Westminster hall debate on cyber-flashing-related harms, Ms Jones said: “It can be intimidating and distressing, but more than that – if you receive an indecent image from a stranger in a public place, you are in a very vulnerable position. You are often alone with your perpetrator.
“Sometimes the perpetrator is there deliberately watching you, waiting for your reaction. It’s a way of creating anxiety, a feeling of being watched and a lack of safety, with the inherent threat that it could be followed up with a physical act of sexual harassment or violence.
“It’s time that we made cyber-flashing a criminal offence on a par with its physical counterpart and to ensure that the law catches up with technology.”
Ms Jones said she believes the Online Harms Bill “is the vehicle by which we can give victims the power to seek prosecution and hold perpetrators to account for their actions”.
She said: “The unsolicited sharing of lewd images is not a part of normal courtship.”
And she added: “It is imperative that we act to criminalise cyber-flashing in England and Wales as soon as possible.
“Every day without an offence in place means that victims are denied an effective route to justice.”
We should absolutely encourage these tech companies to take consideration of their own moral duties to the public in this regard. They don’t need to wait for us to pass a law, they can do the right and the decent things themselves to stop women and girls suffering from this sort of behaviourJustice minister Victoria Atkins
Responding, Justice minister Victoria Atkins said: “We absolutely support the development of such an offence and we are considering very carefully an offence along the lines of that proposed by the Law Commission.
“(She) has asked whether the Online Safety Bill may be the vehicle through which that law is brought about. We are actively looking at that, but we do understand very much the need for speed.”
Ms Atkins said “this offence is increasing in its prevalence”, adding there was “nothing to stop internet companies from acting now”.
She said: “We should absolutely encourage these tech companies to take consideration of their own moral duties to the public in this regard. They don’t need to wait for us to pass a law, they can do the right and the decent things themselves to stop women and girls suffering from this sort of behaviour.”
She concluded: “We are actively and carefully considering the Law Commission’s recommendation regarding cyber-flashing and we are very much looking to identify a legislative vehicle as we aim to introduce a new specific offence to criminalise cyber-flashing.”