Cyberflashing is set to become a new offence under the Online Safety Bill. Once passed into law, it will be illegal to send a photo or film of a person’s genitals for the purpose of their own sexual gratification, or to cause the victim humiliation, alarm or distress.

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Protection of women and girls

Lord Chancellor Dominic Raab has made the protection of women and girls a priority. This is evident in the number of legal changes that have taken place recently. In the past year, steps have been taken to criminalise upskirting and breastfeeding voyeurism. Now, the government intends to add cyberflashing to the list. Cyberflashing is when an unsolicited sexual image is sent to another person via social media, dating apps, or via Bluetooth or Airdrop. The announcement comes as experts report a rise in reports of cyberflashing. Research found that 75.8% of girls aged between 12 and 18 had received unsolicited images from males.

What does the Online Safety Bill include?

So, what exactly does the Online Safety Bill include?

First and foremost, it will be an offence to send a photo or film of a person’s genitals for the purpose of their own sexual gratification, or to cause the victim humiliation, alarm or distress. The offence of cyberflashing will be treated in the same way as in-person flashing. It carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.

Secondly, it will be an offence to send genuinely threatening communications. This intends to capture threats to rape, kill, inflict violence or cause serious financial harm. The offence carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. There will also be a harm-based communications offence. This intends to capture communications sent to cause harm without a reasonable excuse. The offence carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.

Additionally, it will be an offence for someone to send a communication they know to be false, with the intent to cause non-trivial emotional, psychological or physical harm. This intends to capture communications deliberately sent to cause harm, rather than misinformation. The offence carries a maximum penalty of 51 weeks’ imprisonment.

Duty of care on internet companies

The Bill also places a duty of care on internet companies to limit the spread of illegal content. Companies must put systems in place to remove the content. They must also take proactive measures if the content relates to any of the following:

  • Encouraging or assisting suicide
  • Offences relating to sexual images
  • Incitement to and threats of violence
  • Hate crime
  • Public order offences
  • Drug-related offences
  • Weapons/firearms offences
  • Fraud and financial crime
  • Money laundering
  • Controlling, causing or inciting prostitutes for gain
  • Organised immigration offences

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