Cyberflashing: Sending unwanted graphic nudes ‘should be a standalone crime’

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Sending unwanted graphic nude images to people without their consent should be a standalone crime, according to one of the UK’s biggest dating apps.

In some cases perpetrators can be prosecuted for “cyberflashing” under voyeurism or sex offence laws.

But Bumble’s campaign says making it a standalone offence would do more to stop people sending such content.

The Ministry of Justice has told Radio 1 Newsbeat that it’s reviewing the law to reflect emerging crimes.

‘No warning’

Renée Butler, 21, from Bristol, was cyberflashed by a friend of a friend.

She told Newsbeat it left her feeling violated.

“I wasn’t replying to his messages… he sent me a video of him exposing himself on Instagram.”

Renée, who works in insurance, decided against reporting the man to police but messaged his parents and sister on Facebook to tell them what happened.

She says she wouldn’t have opened the message if she’d known what was in it.

“There was no warning, nothing, I didn’t know what it was.”

Some apps and sites blur incoming picture messages to protect users – but not all.


Cyberflashing disproportionately impacts women, according to new figures from Research With Barriers.

It says nearly half (48%) of women aged 18-24 in the UK received a sexual photo they did not ask for in the last year.

At the moment some image-based offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 can carry a two-year maximum prison sentence in England and Wales.

But Bumble, the dating app, is leading a campaign for the government to make sending unwanted images of genitals a specific criminal offence.

This would bring England and Wales and Northern Ireland in line with Scotland, where cyberflashing has been a criminal offence for over a decade.

Renée thinks a specific criminal offence would better protect people.

“I was the one who came away from it feeling embarrassed. I felt so awful,” she added.

‘A thrill’ for perpetrators

Jonathan Donaghy was on the Tube with colleagues when he was sent pictures of someone’s genitals via AirDrop on his iPhone.

The 26-year-old from Birmingham tells Newsbeat: “It was just really embarrassing at the time – I was obviously sitting next to people.”

Although he says he was desensitised to the material, he thinks the person was doing it to embarrass him to get “a thrill or a rush”.


Jonathan Donaghy with trees behind him


Jonathan reported what happened to the British Transport Police, who “did take it quite seriously” but told him they wouldn’t have the power to request the person’s details from Snapchat, even though their Snapchat handle appeared in one of the images he received.

He worries that children could be sent such images.

“There is no telling what age ‘Jonathan’s iPhone’ is. I could have been a child,” he says.

“I think making it a standalone crime would make it more serious, [especially] if it happens to vulnerable individuals.”

The Law Commission, which recommends new laws to the government, has suggested the Sexual Offences Act should be amended to include cyberflashing.

This type of pressure for the government to create new laws for specific offences is not new.

It happened with upskirting with the Voyeurism Act in 2019 – after a campaign by Gina Martin, who was targeted at a music festival.

The Ministry of Justice is due to respond to the Law Commission’s findings shortly and told Newsbeat: “No-one should have to suffer this abuse, which is why we are reviewing the law to keep pace with emerging crimes.”

“We have already made ‘upskirting’ and ‘revenge porn’ illegal – protecting victims and ensuring abusers feel the full weight of the law.”

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