Loophole in law means men will still get away with sending penis pictures

After months of campaigning from popular dating app Bumble, the government has confirmed that the Online Safety Bill will include a new law to make Cyberflashing carry the same maximum sentence as indecent exposure. This comes after research conducted by Bumble finding that nearly half of those aged 18-24 receiving a sexual photo they did not ask for (48%) in the last year alone.

Whilst this is a welcome start, it only covers offences where you can prove that the person sent the image for sexual gratification or to cause distress, leaving out those who send images ‘for a laugh’. Professor Clare McGlynn QC of Durham University, an expert in Cyberflashing, said: “The proposed new law is a welcome first start recognising the serious harms of Cyberflashing.

“But the Government must go further if the reality is to live up to the rhetoric. The current proposal will only cover Cyberflashing where you can prove that the person sent the image for sexual gratification or to cause distress. This leaves a significant gap where men send the penis images for a laugh, a joke among their friends, to gain kudos. It will also make prosecutions very difficult.

“What we need is a comprehensive, straightforward law based on non-consent. Cyberflashing is alarmingly common. Many studies show that around half of young women are being sent sexually explicit images without their consent and the figures are even higher for those aged under 18.”

Nima Elmi, Head of Public Policy for Europe at Bumble said: “Our research shows that almost half of women aged 18-24 have received a sexual photo they did not ask for in the last year, and this is simply unacceptable. We welcome the Government’s decision to criminalise Cyberflashing on par with indecent exposure as part of the Online Safety Bill.

“Bumble has been taking steps to tackle Cyberflashing for years. We built Private Detector, a safety feature for our products that captures and blurs nude images and have campaigned for new legislation in the US and the UK. This new law is the first step to creating accountability and consequences for this everyday form of harassment that causes victims, predominantly women, to feel distressed, violated, and vulnerable on the internet as a whole.

“However, in order to drive societal change, any new law must be based on non-consent. This means that the offence is based on whether the recipient consented, irrespective of the sender’s intentions. This is the emerging international standard that we’re seeing across the United States, recognising the violating nature of the harm, and making accountability, and enforcement, more likely.”

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