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Reports of Cyber-Flashing on Trains Are on the Rise

Dominique Adams

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woman using smartphone at train station

Reports of cyber-flashing to the British Transport Police have almost doubled in a year, new data has revealed.

The number of women being sent explicit images by men on trains has increased significantly over the past year, however, campaigners say the true number of women affected “will almost certainly be much higher”.

Despite the spike in incidents it believed there was only one cyber-flashing related arrest made in the last year. Professor Clare McGlynn from Durham University, who specialises in the research of image-based sexual abuse, tells The Independent, these numbers are “the tip of the iceberg”.

“Many women do not report, because they know little can be done and they simply want to get on with their day. Technology is not only making harassment of women easier, but it’s also changing why men harass. Cyberflashing is not about ‘weirdos’ and ‘perverts’,” she said.

“It’s about everyday, ordinary men choosing to harass women. This is about power, and we need to address inequality and misogyny. Then we’ll see a reduction in cyberflashing,” she added.

First reported in 2015, cyber-flashing is when someone uses the airdrop function, a file-sharing function on iPhones, on their device to send an unsolicited sexual image to a stranger nearby.

Victims are often targeted on trains due to the short distance of the technology’s range. Those receiving the images are often left feeling vulnerable and fearful using public transport.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request has revealed that the number of incidents has more than doubled year-on-year in 2016, 2017 and 2018. According to the FoI, in 2016 there were three incidents of cyber-flashing reported, this figure then leapt to 34 in 2018 and then soared to 66 reports in 2019.

Cyber-flashing is recorded as incidents under their malicious communications act. The data showed that only one arrest was made last year in connection with the cyber-flashing. Police say that in such incidents it is often hard to identify a subject due to the difficulty in tracing the perpetrator.

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People with the AirDrop function set to Everyone means that someone outwith their contact list can request to send them an image anonymously. All that is shown on the to the person receiving the image is a preview of the picture and the name of the iPhone sending the file.

In 2019, in instances when the victim’s gender was recorded, 88% of those targeted were women and 57% of those were between the ages of 21-30.

Campaigns manager at End Violence Against Women Coalition, Rebecca Hitchen, said the rise in the number of women coming forward showed that they were becoming “more confident they will be taken seriously” if they reported it.

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Dominique Adams

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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