The dangers of cyber sexual assault and why we need to take action for a nationwide change.

Updated: Aug 18

Where to begin?

To give you a wider understanding before we get into this, let’s take it all the way back to 1956, when parliament consolidated the Sexual Offences Act as criminal law. Now although it was revisited and mostly changed in 2002 (4 sections still remain), this was initiated during a time where the internet, I-pads, mobile phones etc. weren’t invented and therefore these laws were created during a pre-technology era where they weren’t a risk. Times have changed massively and the internet has now become an essential part of our lives whether we like it or not. This isn’t about “inventing” something new to make illegal, it’s about adjusting what already is illegal to suit our current time.

So, what is cyber sexual assault?

Cyber sexual assault comes under the umbrella term of cyber violence. This can be cyber flashing (sending unsolicited nude pictures), unwarranted sexual comments, solicitation of sexual favours, sexting without mutual consent and revenge porn. These things are already illegal in real life, so why isn’t it viewed the same online? Because we are still operating from an outdated system that simply does not work for us anymore. It needs to be rewritten for it to be viewed differently, because as it stands the majority of the men that send dick pics to strangers online, don’t even think they are doing anything wrong and will laugh in your face if you tell them this is sexual harassment. Yes, I’m putting it very bluntly but just ask any woman if she’s ever received a dick pic in her inbox and be prepared to be stunned by the answers you get. It’s just a fact, 9 in 10 women have received an unsolicited nude off a man online. The statistics and answers are overwhelmingly all over the internet. They all say the same thing.

So why should it be taken as seriously online?

In an investigative study done by the University of Central Florida, they showed that cyber sexual assault survivors exhibit similar trauma symptomology to physical sexual assault survivors (anxiety, depression, PTSD etc.). There has been a severe lack of attention to the mental health consequences of cyber sexual assault on victims and quite frankly it’s a pretty massive negligence when you think of how much technology and the internet affects everyone’s day-today lives.

But it goes even deeper than that. In 2020 the Israeli supreme court affirmed convictions of rape by distant communication (cyber rape), when perpetrators conversed with minors and women online using fraud and blackmail to manipulate them into self-penetration. This is something that’s already being considered and put into practice in other countries so what is the UK doing about it?

Back in March of 2022, the British Government announced that cyber flashing will be outlawed as part of the Online Safety Bill, punishable with up to 2 years in prison. I personally called 101 recently (June 2022) and very politely and respectfully asked an officer to check for me if it has been implemented yet and if I could report someone for cyber flashing. After very kindly searching on the system for me, he came to the conclusion that it has not yet come into effect. I have many concerns about this as I feel like the British Government is doing the bare minimum for us at this time. For starters why is it only cyber flashing that’s been outlawed? It simply does not make sense if it’s illegal to sexually harass someone on the streets or in a club, but in someone’s inbox its fair game. It shouldn’t make it any different just because its online. All forms of cyber sexual assault need to be faced with legal repercussions. If it applies in real life, it should apply online. Full stop.

Second, why has this not come into effect yet? It’s been 4 months now, since the very vague might I add, announcement and we’ve had no update or any further information by our Government. Third, how will these laws be measured so to speak? As it stands currently, the UK and Wales cyber flashing laws are requiring proof of intention to cause distress which to me translates to “you can send someone a dick pic and claim it’s for the other persons pleasure” and get away with it. How on earth would a victim be able to prove that?

And last but not least… Fourth point I’d like to make, even if these laws are implemented, how would we guarantee prosecutions are carried out?

For answers to this question, we just need to look at Scotland. Since 2010 cyber flashing has been outlawed, but even though they appear to be well ahead of the UK, there is a major downside. Only one in 20 reports result in a conviction. In 2021, 1,140 cases of cyber flashing were reported and only 307 convictions were made.

This is not good enough.

We are asking for the British Parliament to amend these laws with the victims in mind and guarantee not just a trial, but a fair one.

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