Nearly half (48%) of young women aged 18 to 24 have received a sexual photo they didn't ask for in the last year.
Cyberflashing – being sent an explicit sexual photo without your prior consent – can happen on dating apps like Bumble, on social media platforms and in public spaces where WiFi is available. A Sky News report published last year found that the number of people who received unwanted sexual AirDrop messages on trains doubled in 2019.
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of cyberflashing victims are women. Rochelle, a 23-year-old from London who was cyberflashed on the Northern Line via AirDrop, told Refinery29 in 2019 that the experience made her feel "shocked, uncomfortable, annoyed and quite sick as it kept popping up despite me declining the image."
"I think men do it because they think it's funny to see other people's reactions, although I was far from amused," Rochelle said at the time. "Perhaps they get a sense of power over others, especially when people are unaware of who it's coming from. It seems predatory to me because it’s subjecting people to unwanted and inappropriate images."
Bumble is now calling on the UK government to make cyberflashing a crime, pointing out rightly in a blog post that "if flashing wouldn't fly on the street – or at the office, or in the classroom – it shouldn’t be tolerated in your inbox". The dating app has pledged to work with politicians and advocacy organisations including UN Women to bring an anti-cyberflashing law into the UK statute books.
They're encouraging people to share their experiences of being cyberflashed on social media – provided they feel comfortable doing so – using the hashtag #DigitalFlashingIsFlashing.
Whitney Wolfe Herd, Bumble's founder and CEO, said: "Cyberflashing is a relentless, everyday form of harassment that causes victims, predominantly women, to feel distressed, violated, and vulnerable on the internet as a whole. It’s shocking that in this day and age we don’t have laws that hold people to account for this."
Claire Barnett, Executive Director of UN Women UK added: "Cyberflashing is a pervasive issue that, like other forms of sexual harassment, disproportionately targets and impacts women and girls.
"As we build back post-pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to reconsider how we use and interact in public spaces – both online and offline. Digital spaces will only become a greater part of our daily lives, so for the sake of future generations it’s crucial that we get this right now, with preventative, education-driven solutions to online violence."