The Memo: First person convicted of cyberflashing in England

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First person convicted of cyberflashing in England

Emily Dunham - 2 April 2024

The new Online Safety Act came into force on 31 January 2024 and criminalises offences such as sharing deepfakes or downblousing images and cyberflashing. Cyberflashing typically involves sending unsolicited sexual or nude images to victims, and usually takes place via social media or dating appsHowever, it also includes occasions where offenders share the images through photo sharing services like Airdrop, as often happens on the transport network. Those who are found to have committed this offence will face prosecution, and consequences can include fines, being put on the sex offenders register and prison sentences of up to two years. CPS guidance says that charging decisions for this offence should be made based on whether offenders intended for victims to be alarmed, distressed or humiliated as a result of the cyberflashing, or whether the culprit received sexual gratification. 

On 19 March 2024, the first person was convicted of cyberflashing under this new legislation. 39-year-old Nicholas Hawkes was already a convicted sex offender, and in February he sent unsolicited images of his genitals to a 15-year-old girl and a woman in her 60s. Both victims took screenshots of the message, and one reported him to Essex Police the same day. Hawkes pleaded guilty to the offence and was jailed for 66 weeks. This sentence comprised of 52 weeks for the cyberflashing offence, and a further 14 weeks for breaching a previous court order and activating a suspended sentence. He was also handed a 10-year restraining order for each of his victims, and a sexual harm prevention order which bans him from approaching women he doesn’t know on public highways and in parks for 15 years.