cyber flashing

Why is cyber flashing still not recognised as illegal?

TW: Sexual Assault and Violence.

A report released by the University of Leicester found that 33% of women had been cyber flashed. Additionally, a UN Women report found that 86% of 18-24 year olds had experienced sexual harassment in a public place. One third of this 86% stated that they had been sent unsolicited explicit images.

So what is cyber flashing?

Cyber flashing is the act of sending explicit and unwanted pictures (typically of male genitalia) to strangers online.

The main way these images are sent is through AirDrop, which is a feature built into Apple iPhones; within seconds you can send photos, videos, voice recordings and other media to any iPhone within the immediate vicinity.

This means that your iPhone appears to anyone within a close proximity – so anyone wishing to cyber flash you has immediate access to your device and can therefore target you with ease. The phones engaging in this feature must be less than 30 feet away from each other. 

AirDrop is frequently used in the workplace, which is why many people have their permissions set to public. However, this means that in rush hour traffic, for example (on a crowded train or tube), many more individuals will be able to utilise the AirDrop feature. Therefore, those with access to your iPhone on board this public transport may make you victim to cyber flashing.

Unfortunately, AirDrop is not the only way for cyber stalkers to send unsolicited images. Many cyber stalkers have taken to sharing their unwanted explicit images through DMs (direct messages) on the social media sites Instagram and Facebook through anonymous accounts.

As a result of people spending more and more time online, the cases of cyber flashing has continued to rise. A recent Glitch survey notes that there was a 27% increase of online abuse during Covid-19.

What’s the big deal with cyber flashing?

The implications and severity of flashing (both in real life and online) should not be underestimated or brushed aside. Research has found that many offenders who start committing these ‘non-contact crimes’ tend to go on to eventually commit sexual assault and rape.


This brings us to Sarah Everard’s murder. If you remember back to the beginning of this year, Everard disappeared while walking home from a friend’s house in South London on 3rd March. It wasn’t until 10th March where human remains were found in a woodland, which were later confirmed to be Everard only two days later. During the course of this investigation, a police officer, Wayne Couzens, was arrested in connection to the suspected kidnapping of Sarah.

Finally, in the evening of 12th March, Couzens was charged with kidnapping and murdering Sarah. This information is significant because six years before Couzens murdered Everard, he was accused of flashing in Kent. However, police failed to investigate this, leading you to wonder if Sarah Everard’s tragic murder could have been prevented.

Couzens also allegedly exposed himself to staff members in a McDonald’s restaurant in Kent. This supposedly happened three days before he abducted, raped and murdered Sarah Everard. This only further supports the research which suggests that those who are prone to flashing can go on to commit much more heinous crimes.

On both the occasions listed above, police failed to investigate the matters, and therefore lost the opportunity to apprehend and punish Couzens, who was a serving police officer until his recent conviction.

Additionally, the nature of cyber flashing means that it is currently incredibly difficult to report as these attacks are effectively untraceable. Moreover, there are no current laws that are specific to cyber flashing, and it’s not even currently classed as a criminal offence.

In contrast, an in-person flashing means the police have the ability to look at CCTV and perhaps increase their presence in the suspected area. Whilst these measures don’t help with the victim’s trauma, there is at least some hope in preventing further attacks and flashing.

The difficulty with cyber flashing is that anyone could be the perpetrator – even someone you walk next to on the street. We currently have nothing to defend or protect ourselves against these explicit cyber attacks, not even the law or police. 


cyber flashing