A Tory MP who was flashed on the internet while on a busy train to London has revealed she has become accustomed to ‘a steady bombardment of online verbal abuse, rape and even death threats”.
Basingstoke MP Maria Miller, 57, recalled the time she was given an unsolicited explicit image without consent of a man’s genitals by someone she was sharing with on a crowded train to London station Waterloo.
The 57-year-old also hailed the Online Safety Bill, which was introduced in parliament last week, and called it “groundbreaking legislation” that will “hold tech giants accountable for the first times”.
She said: ‘Like any other woman in Basingstoke, I was abused online and received a cyber flashing image of a man’s bare genitals.
“Like every other commuter in Waterloo, you don’t want to see a picture of a penis when you’re on a crowded train. It was someone on the train with me and I wondered who it was.
‘This law will make it an offense against the law and the same offense as flashing. I think women expect this to be in place already.
Cyber flashing occurs when a person receives an unsolicited sexual image on their mobile device from an unknown person nearby via social media, messages or other sharing features such as Airdrop. In some cases, a preview of the photo may appear on a person’s device, which means that even if the transfer is rejected, victims are still forced to see the image.
Tory MP Maria Miller (pictured) who received a cyber flashing image of a man’s genitals while on a train to London said she was used to a ‘regular bombardment of verbal abuse , rape and even death threats”
Ministers confirmed last week that sending unsolicited sexual images to people via social media or dating apps would become a criminal offence. The measure will add to existing plans to strengthen online protections.
The move comes after research found that three-quarters of girls aged 12 to 18 had received unsolicited nude images of boys or men. A Law Commission review, Modernizing Communications Offenses, recommended the creation of a new offense.
The new legislation will apply to England and Wales – the law having been made illegal in Scotland 12 years ago.
Officials said the law change would mean anyone would send a photograph or film of a person’s genitals, for the purpose of their own sexual gratification or to cause humiliation, alarm or distress. to the victim, could face up to two years in prison.
Cyber flashing occurs when a person receives an unsolicited sexual image on their mobile device from an unknown person nearby via social media, messages or other sharing features such as Airdrop. In some cases, a preview of the photo may appear on a person’s device, which means that even if the transfer is rejected, the victims are forced to see the image (file image)
What is cyber-flashing?
Cyberflashing is the act of someone deliberately sending a stranger an unsolicited sexual image using the AirDrop feature on an iPhone. These images are usually of male genitalia.
AirDrop, which is specific to iOS devices such as iPads and iPhones, as well as Apple Macs, uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to connect over a short distance to other devices.
People are often targeted for cyberflashing via AirDrop on public transport due to the short range of the technology.
Cyberflashing was criminalized in Scotland under Section 6 of the Sexual Offense in 2009, while a similar measure was also passed unanimously by the Texas Senate in May 2019.
Police investigated the first-ever case of cyber-flashing in 2015 after an unwanted graphic image appeared on the iPhone of a shocked London commuter.
Ms Miller said the new legislation ‘will prevent people from breaking the law without being punished’.
Addressing the Basingstoke Gazetteshe added: “We know that women parliamentarians experience twice as much abuse as their male counterparts, so there are societal issues that we need to address where abuse of women is more common than abuse towards men.
“People are hiding behind the fact that for too long the online world has been a place where people who break the law can exist without being punished. That won’t stop people from having controversial ideas and share online, but it will prevent people who hurt others from doing so.
‘[The bill will] finally seizing the nettle of online abuse, to create a safer and more respectful online environment, which will also lead to a softer policy.
“Abuse, bullying and harassment on social media platforms are ruining lives, undermining our democracy and shattering society.”
Speaking about the bill, Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “Technology has the power to bring people together and improve our lives, but it can also enable heinous behavior by those who wish to abuse, harm and harass.
“The upcoming online safety bill will force tech companies to stop using their platforms to commit despicable acts of cyber-flashing.
“We bring the full weight of the law to the individuals who commit this horrific behavior.”
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab added: ‘Protecting women and girls is my top priority, which is why we are keeping sex and violent offenders behind bars longer, giving victims of domestic violence more time to report assaults and increase funding for support services to £185m a year.
“Making cyber-flashing a specific crime is the final step, sending a clear message to perpetrators that they will face jail time.”