Cyberflashing is fine as long as it’s meant as a prank, new UK legislation suggests

By Mason Berlinka

Published Apr 19, 2023 at 02:14 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

Presenting as female online is no easy feat. From unattainable beauty standards to rampant misogyny flooding our social media feeds, it sadly doesn’t come as a surprise that one in three women have received an unsolicited nude image while at work.

This shocking new data has been collected by dating app and regular watchdog of sexual exploitation and harassment, Bumble. The insight goes on to divulge that over one in four women received such images while on public transport. The sending of unsolicited dick pics, or cyberflashing, is a traumatising and unpleasant reality for women trying to navigate the digital world.

So, what exactly is being done to combat this rising trend? The UK has proposed new legislation in its updated Online Safety Bill (OBS) to help combat the injustices women face online on a daily basis. As of 17 April 2023, the bill has cleared the House Of Commons and is currently at parliament’s House Of Lords committee stage.

While a step in the right direction, there is a glaring flaw, in that unsolicited nudes are only punishable if they were sent based on “harmful intent.” What this means is that only pictures sent out of malice, or with harm in mind will face legal consequences. Essentially, anything someone claims was sent as a “joke” won’t face criminal repercussions.

This oversight in the new legislation is a huge blow to the bill, one which many hoped would implement firm protection for women who are so frequently the recipients of these disgusting images. ‘Boys being boys’ are likely to go unpunished as a result of the proposed legislation, and thus the UK’s culture of misogynistic and laddish behaviour is not only socially reinforced, but politically protected.

The primary issue here is that intent is incredibly hard to prove and so this legislative flaw essentially will lead to the bill beginning to protect the predatory individuals who participate in cyberflashing. The onus shifts almost entirely to the victim to somehow prove the flasher’s intent when reporting the crime.

Why is the UK leaving it up to the traumatised recipient to have to relive the unpleasant experience and fight for justice? Furthermore, with trust in the British police at an all time low, it begs the question of will any individuals even feel comfortable fighting for protection and recognition of wrongdoing?

This is a step back for believing survivors says Claire Barnett, the executive director of UN Women UK, who went on to tell Bumble that the bill needs to put forward “a definition of sexual harassment that is about unwelcome behaviour, rather than the intention of the perpetrator.”

The OBS not only fails to protect women, but has also caught flack for attempting to put a stop to end-to-end encryption, essentially removing even more of our already limited privacy on the internet. End-to-end encryption allows for your conversations to stay private—it’s what WhatsApp uses to keep you safe, and the proposed legislation would give the UK government free access to take a peek at all of your private messages.

Once again, the UK government appears to take one step forward, and then another two back. This is just another drop in the bucket of recent failure to adequately protect marginalised groups as well, much like parliament’s recent attempt to block Scotland’s landmark progressive Gender Reform Bill.

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