Cyberflashing happens to half of young women, yet it still isn’t a crime

‘It made me feel so violated and just so so icky’

47 per cent of women aged 18-24 have received an image of a penis that they did not ask for, YouGov research has found, yet cyberflashing still isn’t a crime.

Cyberflashing is the sending of unsolicited images or video recordings of genitals (basically, dick pics) without consent. These explicit images could be sent through social media, messaging or dating apps, AirDrop or Bluetooth.

Whilst if you were to physically flash someone on the street this would be a crime, doing this digitally or online still isn’t illegal in England and Wales – but dating app Bumble is campaigning for the UK government to make the unsolicited sending of nude images illegal. In Scotland, it has been already been classified as a sexual offence for over a decade.

Cyberflashing can have lasting effects, making people feel unsafe and distressed. With calls for it to become illegal and proposals for legal reform and better protection of victims, The Tab spoke to three young women who shared their experiences of cyberflashing:

‘It’s not a sexual thing, it’s a power thing’

University student Laura*, whose name has been changed in order for her to speak freely, says she was cyberflashed by an ex. She says he messaged her “very out of the blue” on social media. “Initially nothing too outrageous”, Laura says, with the messages just being a general catch-up and him using a picture message function. “I was just sending back normal text messages and he was asking why I wasn’t sending selfie-kinda messages back so I sent one back being like ‘happy now’ and then bam unsolicited dick pic.

“I was fuming and tried to be like ‘that’s really not okay’ and he wasn’t getting it. I then was like ‘that’s cyberflashing’ and his reply was ‘I’m sorry you feel like that’ (or a similar non-apology) and it made me feel so violated and just so so icky.”

Laura says it made her feel “unbelievably icky and gross – but probably worse I felt like my trust had been violated as the messages seemed friendly and seen as we’d both moved on, I was hoping a friendship could’ve been salvaged before he sent the dick pic.

“I think also it’s not just a sexual thing – it’s also a power thing (like a lot of harassment like this is)”, she tells The Tab.

‘I get sent videos of men wanking five times a year’

24-year-old Sophie reckons she experiences cyberflashing about five times a year, involving “weird videos of men wanking” or explicit images, which she describes as “just quite sickening”. She says it’s always from strangers and usually via social media DMs.

Sophie remembers one incident, where she was speaking to a guy on a dating app who she thought seemed fit and cool. “We’d literally only just exchanged digits and had only started speaking that evening”, she says. “He seemed quite normal and nice and we were having a general conversation about life and what we do etc, then from nowhere he sent me a video swinging his dick around like helicoptering around.

“I was just like??? And felt confused and disgusted. Needless to say I ignored him from then.”

‘Women have to police their activity online’

Uni student Gwynnie says the first time she can remember being cyberflashed was when she was 16 years old, and it’s happened at least five-to-10 times since then.

“For a lot of women [cyberflashing] happens on a far more regular basis than we’d like to admit,” she says. “To exist as a woman online results in that.” As with Sophie’s experiences on dating apps, Gwynnie thinks cyberflashing happens the most on online dating. “You’ll accept men on [social media] thinking they just want to talk, and then you’re being sent a dick pic from a guy you barely know.”

She says she’s seen a lot of men advertise in their dating app bios that they don’t like talking on the app, and to add them on social media instead. But she says “that’s really just a pretence for them to send you unwarranted nudes, and then have the audacity to ask for them in return.

“I think a lot of women police their activity online to avoid being sent these kind of images, but even messages which are ‘requests’ aren’t filtered or examined, so there’s nothing to stop men sending them to you.”

Gwynnie describes cyberflashing as a violation: “Online you build yourself a space and when someone sends an unsolicited nude it does feel like someone has violated those boundaries you create for yourself.

“It doesn’t make me upset or scared necessarily, it’s more an anger that men think they’re entitled to send us these harassing images, it shows how little they respect consent or boundaries.”

Bumble is calling on the government to make cyberflashing a crime

If you’re cyberflashed, you can report it (if possible, with screenshot evidence) to the social media platform or dating app it happened on. If you’re AirDropped an image on public transport, you can report it to the British Transport Police by phoning 101 or texting 61016.

cyberflashing, crime, illegal, unsolicited dick pics, experiences, bumble

via Instagram @bumble_uki

Bumble says it’s working alongside politicians, organisations, and members of the public “to call on the UK Government to enact a law that makes the unsolicited sending of nude images illegal. If flashing wouldn’t fly on the street – or at the office, or in the classroom – it shouldn’t be tolerated in your inbox.”

How can I help?

• To help raise awareness of the campaign to make cyberflashing a crime, you can sign this petition

• You can write to your MP using the template linked on this page

• And you can raise awareness on social media with the hashtags such as #SafeSpacesNow #EndCyberflashing and #DigitalFlashingIsFlashing

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story contact Refuge on their free 24/7 helpline 0808 2000 247 or contact Rape Crisis online for a free confidential chat helpline.

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Featured image (before edits) via Kelli McClintock on Unsplash