A GOVERNMENT taskforce is looking into a loophole in Jersey’s legislation in relation to ‘cyber-flashing’, a crime which the group’s chair said was ‘poorly understood’ in the Island.
The gap – which means there is a discrepancy between flashing online and in person – forms part of ongoing discussions to tackle gender-based violence, according to Home Affairs Minister Helen Miles.
Cyber-flashing involves sending obscene pictures to strangers online. It is currently considered an offence under Jersey’s 2002 Telecommunications Law only if a message is ‘grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing and the sender knows or intends the message or image would be viewed as such by a reasonable member of the public’.
The law prohibiting indecent exposure, however, is deemed to have been broken if a person is merely ‘intending it to be seen’.
Deputy Miles said: ‘As part of its work, the Violence Against Women and Girls Taskforce will be giving consideration to whether the existing legal framework in Jersey in relation to VAWG behaviours is adequate or requires updating. This will include consideration of those behaviours perpetrated online such as cyber-flashing.’
Kate Wright, who chairs the VAWG Taskforce, said cyber-flashing was an aspect of gender-based violence that ‘needs to be recognised, better understood and addressed’.
She confirmed that the issue had been included in the group’s research, and added: ‘The fact that it is a digital form of sexual abuse and harassment doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cause great distress and trauma to victims.’
Mrs Wright added that it was hard to establish sufficient data to provide evidence for the full scale of this abuse in Jersey.
She said: ‘This is in large part because it is not currently recognised as a crime in law and is poorly understood.’
She added: ‘Although, we know that it is likely to be a problem in Jersey too, especially for younger women and girls.’
Cheyenne O’Connor, a local activist who tracks down sexual predators, said that more consideration should be given to the offence of cyber-flashing to ensure there was sufficient legislation in place.
She said: ‘Even if someone is just randomly sending indecent images, then obviously they should be facing something for it. It can be intimidating, even if not with harmful intent, if you’re on your own and you receive indecent images.’
She added: ‘If you were in a situation where other messages had come with it too, that could also be intimidating.’
However, she also said that caution should be taken not to ‘water down’ the Sex Offenders Register ‘and take away from what that register really is’.
Ms O’Connor said that it would depend on the scenario whether people should be placed on the register for cyber-flashing.
The Guardian recently reported that the UK’s soon-to-be-introduced Online Safety Bill, which will consider cyber-flashing as a specific offence for the first time, would only punish perpetrators who showed ‘harmful intent’ – rather than working on the basis that the recipient did not consent to receiving an image.
This discrepancy has led to concerns being raised in the UK that in a digital world, where cyber-flashing has largely replaced flashing, legal loopholes have been allowed to exist.
It is feared that the legislation would be less effective if prosecutors had to argue that a sender intended to cause the victim to be ‘humiliated, alarmed or distressed’ or did it for their own sexual fulfilment.
How widespread is the problem?
The States police have confirmed that they have never received any reports of ‘cyber-flashing’.
However, the latest research by dating app Bumble found almost half of 18- to 24-year-olds in the UK had received a sexual photo they did not ask for, or consent to receive.
A 2018 YouGov study found that 40% of women aged between 18 and 34 had been sent an unsolicited sexual image.
– Have you ever been sent unsolicited sexual images? How much of a problem is cyber-flashing in Jersey? Please share your thoughts and experiences by emailing email@example.com in confidence.