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Illegal sexual behaviour online including sharing and threatening to share intimate images and cyberflashing targeted in new CPS guidance

Source: Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) published on this website Friday 2 February 2024 by Jill Powell

Lawyers will consider charging anyone caught sharing deepfakes, downblousing images or cyberflashing as new guidance is launched to help counter predatory online behaviours. 

Prosecutors will take those who share unwanted sexual images or videos to court for the first time as a new cyberflashing offence comes into effect. 

Cyberflashing typically involves sending an unsolicited sexual or nude image to victims via social media or dating apps, but can also take place through data sharing services with strangers such as Bluetooth and Airdrop – something which commonly happens on the transport network. The Online Safety Act has criminalised this behaviour and the Crown Prosecution Service will now be able to hold offenders to account through the court of law. 

Those who send or provide unwanted images or films of genitals, will face prosecution and could find themselves on the sex offenders register, fined and or imprisoned for up to two years. 

Using the new CPS guidance published 31 January 2024, prosecutors will make charging decisions based on whether offenders intended for a victim of cyberflashing to be alarmed, distressed, or humiliated, or whether they as a culprit hoped to receive sexual gratification regardless of whether or not the recipient was alarmed, distressed, or humiliated. 

Siobhan Blake, from the CPS, said: “Women and girls should be able to go about their lives and daily commutes without being subjected to and bombarded with unwanted sexual images. Our prosecutors are ready and committed to tackling this unacceptable behaviour.

“We would encourage anyone who has been subjected to the illegal act of cyberflashing to come forward and report it. This is a serious crime, and we will work with police to build strong cases against offenders who use technology to harass, distress and abuse victims for their own pleasure.

“The Online Safety Act and our accompanying guidance will give prosecutors powerful tools needed to go further in safeguarding women and girls against predatory online behaviours. These will also allow us to send before the courts and bring to justice those who hide behind computer screens and smartphones to carry out their abusive behaviours.”

Intimate image abusers who disclose or threaten to disclose private sexual photographs or films of their victims will also be easier to bring to justice under the new guidance, which replaces and goes further than the current guidance on disclosing private sexual photographs, often referred to as ‘revenge porn’. 

For the first time it will become a criminal offence to share intimate images or film without consent regardless of whether or not the perpetrator intended to cause the victim any harm. 

Prosecutors will have the power to apply the law in three different categories of so-called revenge porn from now on. 

It will become an offence to share an intimate photograph or film:

a.    without consent, 
b.    without consent and with intent to cause alarm, distress, or humiliation,
c.    without consent and or for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification. 

The new guidance also covers any threats to share intimate images where the victim or someone known to the victim fears that the threat could actually be carried out, or the offender is reckless as to whether there are any such fears.

Lawyers will also be able to take to court perpetrators of online image-based abuse who share manipulated or computerised images and videos of their victims, commonly known as ‘deepfakes’ for the first time. 

The act of ‘downblousing’, where downward facing photos of a woman’s top and chest are shared without her consent, will also fall into the scope of prosecutions for the first time. 

The new CPS guidance will also provide support for prosecutors determining whether to bring charges against those encouraging or assisting self-harm, making clear the harmful act does not need to have been carried out for offenders to be prosecuted for the offence. Lawyers will also be able to look to the guidance to consider cases of epilepsy trolling and false communications offences.