‘Cyberflasher’ sent to prison for the first time in England

England’s court system has sentenced a “cyberflasher” to over a year in prison—a first for the country after its Online Safety Act went into effect on January 31. The 39-year-old culprit—already a registered sex offender—recently admitted in court to sending explicit photos of himself in February to both an adult woman and teenage girl via the messaging platform, WhatsApp. The woman subsequently took a screenshot of the interaction and reported it to police on the same day.

Passed by UK legislators last year, the new laws are designed to protect children and adults from exposure to unwanted imagery. They also place additional “legal responsibility on tech companies to prevent and rapidly remove illegal content, like terrorism and revenge pornography.”

A 2020 academic study determined roughly 76 percent of girls between 12-and-18 have received unsolicited sexual images from boys and men, often at random in the form of cyberflashing. The form of harassment is defined as sending unsolicited sexual imagery to targets via social media, text messages, or dating apps “for the purpose of their own sexual gratification or to cause the victim humiliation, alarm or distress,” and was added to the UK’s Online Safety Bill in March 2023 ahead of its formal passage the following October. Offenders can face a maximum of two years in prison if convicted.

[Related: How can you safely send nudes?]

“Just as those who commit indecent exposure in the physical world can expect to face the consequences, so too should offenders who commit their crimes online,” Hannah von Dadelzsen, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS East of England, said in an official statement on March 19.

As Engadget notes, similar digital legislative actions exist around the world, although they vary in scope and penalty. Scotland and Northern Ireland banned cyberflashing in 2010 and 2011, respectively, while both Australia and Singapore also enforce criminal charges for cyberflashing.

Here in the US, regulations continue on a more piecemeal basis. In 2022, California became the third state (after Texas and Virginia) to enact laws protecting against cyberflashing harassment. Dating app companies like Bumble have also voiced support for new laws to better prosecute cyberflashing. According to Bumble’s own internal surveying, despite billing itself as a “women-first” app, half of its women users have received such images on the platform. Attempts to address these issues at a federal level have yet to materialize in actual legislation.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers are attempting to leverage these legitimate concerns into wider-reaching censorship campaigns. In Oklahoma, for example, Republican state senators put forth a bill last month that seeks to ban exchanging all explicit content, even if solicited, for anyone except married couples as part of a broader anti-pornography push.

Following Tuesday’s conviction announcement, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor von Dadelzsen vowed “it will not be the last” of such prosecutions, and urged additional victims to come forward “knowing you have the right to lifelong anonymity” through England’s legal projections.