Cyber-flashing - the traumatic implications for victims

Olivia Miller
cs-PNv0pESh9Uk-unsplash by Unsplash

New figures from British Transport Police reveal that the number of women receiving sexually explicit pictures from strangers on trains doubled to 66 cases in 2019. Many further incidents of ‘cyber-flashing’ are going unreported.

Dr Marian Duggan, a criminologist and expert in sexual victimisation at Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, has described the traumatic implications for victims of cyber-flashing as ‘profound’. She said:

Anonymously-perpetrated incidents of image-based sexual abuse such as this doesn’t just affect adult women but can (intentionally or otherwise) target children too. For people who have been, or are being, sexually abused, the traumatic implications of unexpectedly receiving such an explicit image in a public place can be profound. Women and children who are victims of crime generally, and sexual offences specifically, often do not tell anyone about this for a range of reasons. Therefore, it is unsurprising that many will be seeking to deal with the impacts of experiencing this type of unsolicited intrusion on their own terms rather than report it to officials.

‘The anonymous nature of sharing explicit images with strangers means there are some who will use it to victimise with relative impunity. This type of communication is particularly malicious as intended targets cannot consent to receiving the pictures, but instead will often be expected to safeguard themselves by amending their phone settings. It is important that efforts are taken to prevent the ability to cause such harm remotely and without impediment, and that the harmful impacts on the most vulnerable recipients of such images are taken seriously. Conduct such as this could be considered as informing the proposed consultations to amend hate crime laws in England and Wales to acknowledge targeted hostility on the basis of gender.’

Dr Marian Duggan is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Director of Studies for Criminology at the University of Kent. Furthermore she is the Director of Kent’s Gender, Sexuality and Culture Research Cluster. Marian’s research focuses on informing policy and practice to reduce sexual, gendered and hate-based victimisation. She has published widely in these areas and is actively involved in the charitable sector, acting as a Trustee for the Rising Sun Domestic Violence and Abuse Charity.

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