British Transport Police have reported an alarming increase in the number of women being sent sexually explicit images by strangers while traveling via train.
In 2018, 34 cases of cyber-flashing offenses were reported to British Transport Police. In 2019, the number of recorded cases rose to 66, almost doubling over a one-year period.
Cyber-flashing occurs when a sexual predator sends an unsolicited pornographic image or video to a stranger via the iPhone file-sharing function AirDrop.
Police fear the actual figures could be vastly higher as most incidents of cyber-flashing go unreported. Reasons for this could include the fear and/or embarrassment experienced by the victim, the difficulty in identifying the offender who sent the image, and a lack of serious consequences for offenders who are caught cyber-flashing.
AirDrop allows files to be sent anonymously, allowing offenders to harass women with impunity. All that victims receive is a preview of the image and the name of the phone being used to commit the crime.
Despite a huge increase in the number of recorded cases of this particular crime on British trains, only one sexual predator was arrested for cyber-flashing in 2019. Although the crime creates a sickening imposition upon women who enter what should be a safe public space, police don’t always take reports of this crime seriously.
Last year, a woman who reported a cyber-flashing incident that occurred while she was traveling on London’s Bakerloo line was told by the British Transport Police officer that the crime was impossible to investigate. The officer belittled the victim’s experience by suggesting to her that it was “just photos.”
Under current British law, cyber-flashing is not considered a sexual offense. However, it’s not hard to imagine that offenders who can violate a woman’s privacy through cyber-flashing, and who are not caught and punished, could go on to commit sexual offenses.
ESET cybersecurity specialist Jake Moore said: “I recommend people set up AirDrop for contacts only to stop people you don’t know sending you unsolicited messages—or even better just turn it on when you need it.”
Moore said that women could reduce their chances of receiving unwanted porn while going about their daily lives by pretending that they are not female.
Shifting the onus onto women to take preventative actions against this unwarranted and abhorrent behavior by men, he said: “Another way of mitigating the chance of being sent an unsolicited message could be to change the name on your device to something neutral, rather than your name.”
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