Cyber-Flashing Sounds Troublesome, But Is Nothing New


UK police are investigating the “first” case of cyber-flashing, but using technology to sexually harass people is nothing new.

u22934564here’s something to be said about media sensationalism when a relatively mild case of unwanted “d*ck pic” makes headlines as a first-of-its-kind crime. Lorraine Crighton-Smith, 34, was commuting in South London when an unknown man dropped photos of his penis into Crighton-Smith’s Apple Airdrop account. The woman said she felt violated and reported the incident to police, leading several major news outlets to bill the incident as the first case of cyber-flashing.

In reality, the event was merely the first reported case of abusing Apple’s Airdop function in such a manner. Women (and men) have been dealing with unwanted images of genitalia being sent to their mobile phones for years. The major difference here, which makes the case even more troubling, is the fact that the perpetrator was likely on the same train; the sender either saw Crighton-Smith in person, or assumed she was a female target from her Airdrop name, “Lorraine”.

Lorraine Crighton-Smith, victim of "cyber-flashing". (IMAGE COURTESY OF BBC)
Lorraine Crighton-Smith, victim of “cyber-flashing”. (Image courtesy of BBC)

“I had Airdrop switched on because I had been using it previously to send photos to another iPhone user,” said Crighton-Smith,  “and a picture appeared on the screen of a man’s penis, which I was quite shocked by. So, I declined the image, instinctively, and another image appeared, at which [point] I realized someone nearby must be sending them, and that concerned me. I felt violated, it was a very unpleasant thing to have forced upon my screen.”

She added: “I was also worried about who else might have been a recipient, it might have been a child, someone more vulnerable than me.”

Crighton-Smith has every right and reason to feel violated. Reporting the incident to police was an appropriate measure, and one can only hope authorities follow the digital paper trail to the offender. But in the socio-technological world of smartphones and mass communication, unwanted “d*ck pics” or other inappropriate photos go largely unreported. Thousands of unsuspecting people receive such images every day on Facebook, as SMS attachments, and especially on dating websites and social apps like SnapChat.

Does anonymity and physical distance give “cyber-flashers” extra protection? Or is “cyber-flashing” a special case where proximity to the victim creates a more dangerous and violating experience?

Laws in Western nations are unclear about the seriousness of using technology to expose genitalia to strangers or acquaintances. In Thailand, however, such an act may violate the country’s strict moral censorship laws. A Japanese journalist recently landed himself in hot water after sending an image of his penis to a government-run chat group.

Here’s the takeaway from all of this: always seek consent before sending sexually explicit photos.


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Timothy Bertrand
Writer and journalist living in the Houston, Texas area. Follow me for breaking news, editorials, pictures of cats doing human activities, and other such content from around the web.

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