First ‘Cyberflasher’ Convicted in England Gets Year in Prison for Sending Explicit Photo

Cyberflashing criminal sentenced in England to 66 months in prison

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the United Kingdom has sentenced the first criminal as part of its new Online Safety Act that outlawed sending unsolicited photos of genitalia, otherwise known as “cyberflashing.”

Shortly after the Online Safety Act criminalized cyberflashing on January 31, Nicholas Hawkes, 39, of Basildon, England, was arrested on February 9 for sending unsolicited photos of his penis to a 15-year-old girl and an unspecified adult woman. The woman took screenshots of the image on WhatsApp and then reported Hawkes to Essex Police.

In relatively swift criminal proceedings, Hawkes was sentenced yesterday, March 19, in the Southend Crown Court to 66 weeks in prison. The defendant received a 52-week sentence for the cyberflashing offenses and an additional 14 weeks for violating a previous court order. Hawkes is also subject to a 10-year restraining order and a 15-year Sexual Harm Prevention Order.

“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,” says Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS East of England, Hannah von Dadelzsen.

“Just as those who commit indecent exposure in the physical word 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,” von Dadelzsen continues.

Prosecutors secured a guilty plea from Hawkes just four days after he sent the unsolicited photo of his genitals.

This is not Hawkes’ first run-in with the law. He is a registered sex offender until November 2033 following a conviction last year for illegal sexual activity and exposure with a child under 16 years old.

Legislation dealing with cyberflashing, using digital photography to flash someone, has been enacted significantly slower than laws against flashing “in real life.” However, the harm caused by digital images may not necessarily be any less. Some countries have acted to deal with sending unsolicited sexual images, including Scotland, Northern Ireland, Singapore, and Australia, at least in some cases.

The United States has no wide-reaching law banning or punishing cyberflashing. However, some specific states have sought to address it, including California, Texas, and Virginia, per Engadget.

CBS News explains that in California’s case, a bill signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2022 enabled victims of cyberflashing to sue the offender for up to $30,000 plus additional punitive damages.

The new punishments in England and Wales go far beyond these financial slaps on the wrist. A year in prison is a significant amount of time.

Image credits: Header photos licensed via Depositphotos.