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UK man first to be jailed for ‘cyberflashing’ under new legislation in England

UK man first to be jailed for ‘cyberflashing’ under new legislation in England

A 39-year-old man has become the first person to be jailed in England under a new “cyberflashing” law that came into effect this year.

Nicholas Hawkes was sentenced on Tuesday to a total of 66 weeks in prison.

He received 52 weeks for “cyberflashing” which became a crime on January 31 after the Online Safety Act became law late last year.

The 2023 Online Safety Act created a new criminal offence for sending photographs or films of one’s genitals to cause distress, which has been called cyberflashing.

“Cyberflashing is a serious crime which leaves a lasting impact on victims, but all too often it can be dismissed as thoughtless ‘banter’ or a harmless joke,” Hannah von Dadelzsen, Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service East of England, said in a statement.

“Just as those who commit indecent exposure in the physical world can expect to face the consequences, so too should offenders who commit their crimes online; hiding behind a screen does not hide you from the law,” she said.

Hawkes, who is from Basildon in Essex, sent photos of his erect penis to a 15-year-old girl and a woman on February 9, according to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The woman sent screenshots of the WhatsApp image to Essex Police the same day.

Hawkes received an additional 14 weeks in prison for “breaching a previous court order,” the CPS added.

He pleaded guilty at a hearing in court on February 12 to two counts of sending a photograph or film of his genitals to “cause alarm, distress, or humiliation”.

“The Crown Prosecution Service has delivered the first conviction for cyberflashing, but it will not be the last and I urge anyone who has been a victim of this shocking crime – whether via instant messages, dating apps, or by any other means – to come forward, knowing you have the right to lifelong anonymity,” von Dadelzsen said.

Government officials have said that the Online Safety Act, which became law in October 2023, was meant to protect children and hold tech companies responsible for sexual abuse content. Critics had said they were concerned it undermined privacy.