This article has been written by Simran Rajput puruing a Executive Certificate Course in US Accounting and Bookkeeping at LawSikho and has been edited by Shashwat Kaushik.
This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.
Table of Contents
Our digital lives are now a crucial part of our daily routines in today’s connected world. We use technology to connect with others, share information, and express ourselves. However, this heightened reliance on digital platforms has also given rise to fresh instances of harassment and privacy invasion. Cyberflashing is one such unsettling occurrence; it is a heinous crime that leaves victims feeling violated, upset, and helpless.
This article will look at the world of cyberflashing and consider its legal ramifications. We will clarify the meaning, legal requirements, emotional effects, and emotional ramifications of this act in an effort to increase public awareness of its seriousness and the urgent need for preventative measures. This thorough guide will arm you with the knowledge you need to comprehend and address this alarming issue, regardless of whether you have personally experienced cyber flashing, know someone who has, or simply wish to stay informed and protect yourself online.
We will navigate the complexities of cyber flashing, looking at the legal context, the psychological toll it has on victims, and the actions people can take to stop, report, and eventually eradicate this despicable behaviour. Let us arm ourselves with knowledge so that, working together, we can make the internet a safer and more civilised place for everyone.
Definition of cyber flashing
The Cambridge Dictionary describes cyber flashing as “the act of someone using the internet to send an image of their naked body, especially the genitals (sexual organs), to someone they do not know and who has not asked them to do this.” In other words, cyber flashing is a form of online harassment wherein unsolicited sexual and obscene images like genital parts or pornographic images or videos are sent over WhatsApp or the airdrop feature of an iPhone. It is possible that you are being stalked or targeted by an unknown person who is nearby.
How often does cyber flashing occur
Dating app ‘Bumble’ previously spoke out against cyber flashing after research they conducted in 2021 revealed around 48% of women aged 18-24 had received an unwanted explicit photo in the past year. Their data also revealed that one in four women believed the practise had become more common during the pandemic. Whitney Wolfe Herd, Founder and CEO of Bumble, said: ‘Now more than ever, we spend a considerable amount of our lives online, and yet we have fallen short of protecting women in online spaces. Moreover, In 2019, Bumble launched its AI tool, “Private Detector”, which alerts users when they’ve been sent an obscene photo and automatically blurs the image.
International position of cyber flashing
In some countries, cyberflashing may be considered a criminal offence, while The specific legislation and penalties associated with it may differ from one country to another.
For instance, in the United States, laws related to cyberflashing can vary at the state level. Some states have specific laws that criminalise cyber flashing, i.e., Only Texas and California have regulations governing cyber flashing:
Cyberflashing is a Class C misdemeanour in Texas as of 2019, carrying a $500 fine. Class C misdemeanours are usually the least serious of all misdemeanour charges, often with no jail time required and minimal or nominal fines.
The state enacted the legislation with the aid of the well-known online dating app Bumble. This app has played a vital role in making cyber flashing a crime in the U.S. and U.K. by initiating their campaign.
California passed a law in 2022 that allows victims of cyberflashing to file a lawsuit if the offender is older than 18 years of age. They can also file a claim for legal fees and punitive damages. Additionally, they might ask for a court injunction to stop further transmissions.
In other states, it may fall under broader harassment or indecent exposure statutes. however, there are no federal laws prohibiting cyberflashing in the U.S.
Position in UK
In the United Kingdom, The Law Society report describes the act as a ‘form of sexual harassment, involving coercive sexual intrusion by men into women’s everyday lives—one that takes advantage of technology. Campaigners have long called for cyber flashing to be a specific criminal offence; in 2020, data revealed that incidents of cyber flashing reported to British Transport Police had almost doubled. Cyberflashing has been illegal in Scotland since 2010. As of March 13, 2022, it became a criminal offence in England and Wales.
There is now a maximum sentence of up to two years in prison for sending this type of unsolicited imagery as part of the Online Safety Bill.
The government has considered cyber flashing a crime under the law, giving the police and Crown Prosecution Service greater ability to prosecute those offenders. With these new offences, the government has recently taken similar steps to criminalise upskirting and breastfeeding voyeurism.
In the U.K., the Law Commission, taking note of the recent development in the criminal offence, has recommended changes to the Malicious Communications Act of 1988 and the Communications Act of 2003 to make it illegal to act in ways that “probably cause harm,” including sending offensive texts, social media posts, WhatsApp messages, or Bluetooth-transmitted material.
In the present time, the legislature, however, is primarily concerned with juveniles under the age of 16. The offences of “causing a child to watch a sexual act” (Section 12) and “sexual communication with a child” (Section 15A) were added to target sexual grooming, especially the preludes to some physical sexual assaults. The conclusion under Section 12 may, however, be one of “sexual conduct,” and it is unclear if this would apply to an image of a man’s genitalia. Section 15A’s scope is wider, and “sexual contact” will most likely cover all penis depictions. At least it is clear that the offences cover internet activity.
Position in India
There is no doubt that cyberflashing amounts to cybersexual harassment. However, India doesn’t have any laws that are explicitly intended to prohibit cyberflashing. Additionally, no present law clearly defines or addresses the practise of “cyber flashing.” However, various pieces of legislation, including the Indian Penal Code of 1860 and the Information Technology Act of 2005 may be combined to address such events. Below is a discussion of the precise sections that may apply to cyberflashing under both laws to different demographic groups.
India’s Criminal Code
The IPC’s Section 509 deals with statements, gestures, or actions meant to offend a woman’s modesty. According to the clause, anyone who intentionally offends a woman’s modesty by speaking, gesturing, or displaying an object with the intent that the lady will hear it, hear the gesture, see the gesture, or view the object will be punished.
On the other hand, Section 354A(iii) states that a male who displays pornography against the will of a woman commits the crime of sexual harassment and shall be punished.
Cyberflashing involving pornography in particular, including pornographic content concealed in videos, links, or files that appear to deal with another topic on the surface, or in situations where the sender successfully coaxes the recipient into opening a file or media by leading them to believe that it contains something different instead of the pornographic content concealed in it, is most likely to be held liable under this Section of the IPC.
Exposing a woman to pornography against her will over a video call should also technically fall under the ambit of this Section.
In the case of children, Section 293 of the IPC provides punishment for whoever distributes, exhibits, or circulates to any person under the age of twenty any obscene object or attempts to do so. This section should reasonably apply to cyber flashing of pornography, genitalia and other such obscene objects to children Additionally, Section 13 of the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act of 2012, which addresses the use of children for pornographic purposes, may also be relevant.
The Information Technology Act, 2000
The majority of the IT Act’s rules are mainly gender-neutral. As a result, men, women, and children are all equally covered by the parts listed below.
Punitive measures are outlined in Section 67 of the Act for publishing or transmitting pornographic content in electronic form. This provision applies to the cyberflashing of genitalia and other similarly offensive or unpleasant content. The authorities have previously used this part to record those who engage in cyberflashing.
Similar to this, Section 67A addresses the penalties for publishing or distributing electronic content that contains sexually explicit acts, etc. This section of the IT Act shall apply to any cyber-flashing of pornographic material.
When someone is exposed explicitly to child pornography online, Section 67B, which provides for punishment for publishing or transmitting material depicting children in sexually explicit acts in electronic form, along with Section 13 read with Section 14 of The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, which pertain to the issue of the usage of children for pornographic purposes, shall also apply.
Negative effects of cyber flashing
According to numerous studies, unwanted exposure to pornography can have a seriously negative impact on kids, women, and people in general. It may be particularly upsetting for sexual abuse or assault victims who are healing from their experiences, and it may cause or exacerbate mental health problems in them, including anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cyberflashing on online platforms, which some may see as a haven from the daily sexual harassment experienced in the real world, can cause a great deal of misery to its victims in a highly patriarchal society that is riddled with sexual abuse and harassment.
Sometimes, when friends engage in cyber-flashing under the name of “pranks,” an act of sexual harassment is mistakenly reduced to a joke or something to be laughed off rather than treated seriously.
Cyberbullying poses the greatest threat to children. The material that flashes before them can be too obscure for them to recognise. Probably, they won’t be able to comprehend the fact that they were unintentionally exposed to porn or other offensive material. Furthermore, adolescents could have a very difficult time telling their parents or guardians they’ve been cyberflagged owing to a lack of knowledge, fear, or the embarrassment that comes with it.
What measures can we take to safeguard ourselves against cyber flashing
- Check and modify the privacy settings on all of your devices and social media accounts. Only trustworthy contacts should be able to send you messages or see your media files.
- When at all possible, avoid connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, as they can be insecure. If you must use them, refrain from disclosing private information or clicking on unwanted email attachments.
- Control who can send you messages: Many messaging apps let you decide who can. Enable filters and blocking tools for contacts who are unknown or suspect. Recipients should only be people you know or have verified.
- Report and block offenders: If you get unwanted explicit communications or media, notify and block the source immediately. This shields you from additional harm as well as that of others.
- Do not share your personal information: Today, we search a lot of content online, fill out Google forms, and sometimes sign up on websites that are not verified by Google or any other reliable platform. do not share your information on such websites randomly; make sure to give the relevant information only if possible.
- Think before you click: Be cautious when downloading attachments or accessing links from sites that are unfamiliar or questionable. To prevent malware or phishing attacks, double-check the sender’s legitimacy and use caution.
Apart from the above precautions, you can also consider the following points to avoid cyber flashing. It is essential to know how to ensure your safety against such crimes, as it can be a disturbing and shocking experience. They include –
- Disable or turn off the AirDrop feature on your iPhone
– Go to ‘settings’ > tap ‘general’ > tap ‘Airdrop’ > tap ‘receiving off’
– Go to ‘control centre’ > access network settings > tap ‘on Airdrop > tap on ‘receiving off’
- Do not receive WhatsApp video calls from unknown numbers.
If WhatsApp video calls come continuously from unknown numbers, you can pick up the call but cover the camera and first try to listen to the voice of that person if that person is known to you.
- Disable the auto download of media option in your WhatsApp
WhatsApp > setting > data and storage usage > media auto-download > choose “no media” when using mobile data, when connected to wifi, and when roaming
- Do not click on images and videos received from unknown numbers on WhatsApp.
What can you do if you experience online cyber flashing
- File a complaint with the local police department handling cybercrime
- On cybercrime.gov.in, you can also file an anonymous online complaint.
- Also, you can directly contact the National Police Helpline at 112. The national women’s helpline number is 181, and the cybercrime Helpline is 1930.
Drafting an exclusive law designating cyberflashing as an unlawful act. It is advised that new legislation be passed in light of the injuries and effects experienced by victim-survivors to provide a solid foundation for convictions and victim remedies.
Defining as a sexual offence
The significant and note-worthy point in Texas and Scotland is that they both categorise cyberflashing as a sexual crime and misconduct, indicating that victim-survivor views are properly understood and decide the nature and seriousness of the crime. Therefore, it is crucial to develop successful preventative and educational strategies. In contrast, classifying a crime as a sexual offence guarantees crucial rights for victims or witnesses, including general complainant confidentiality and particular court safeguards.
Not restricted to only the accused’s genital images
If the conduct is limited to simply taking pictures of the accused’s genitalia, it could result in a crime that is challenging to prove. It will be crucial for the police and prosecution to prove that the offensive image was of the accused’s genitalia. This presents many problems, including a likely impossible evidential burden, especially given how limited and unsuitable forensic penile detection is for use in a criminal justice setting. Therefore, it is not improbable to anticipate that such a condition would make victim-survivors less likely to disclose the incident and the police less motivated to pursue prosecution.
We might need a dedicated legal framework to define these types of unlawful acts; however, other laws cover these unlawful acts too, which are not known to the common man. Women and children become most vulnerable in such situations where they do not have proper knowledge; they also can not intimate their problems to their elders or friends; hence, the government can bridge this gap by creating awareness by different means, i.e. preaching awareness about these types of crimes, creating awareness about the remedies available online, advertisement, etc.
Cyberflashing, a contemporary form of cybersexual harassment, is a sad consequence of the increased accessibility to information and communication in the digital age. Due to the lack of adequate legal provisions to address this issue and the current lockdown, which forces most of us to perform many of our daily activities online, the risks of cyber-flashing are greater than ever.
Therefore, it is important that everyone is aware of their legal rights as well as the legal framework that allows crimes like cyberflashing to be reported. More reports of these violations must be made in order for authorities to take action and take cyberflashing seriously.
We must also call for the creation of appropriate legal requirements and amendments to existing laws to keep up with such rapidly evolving forms of cybersexual harassment in order to ensure that everyone has a free and secure online experience.
- Four in ten female millennials have been sent an unsolicited penis photo | YouGov
Students of Lawsikho courses regularly produce writing assignments and work on practical exercises as a part of their coursework and develop themselves in real-life practical skills.
LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals, and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join: