Miranda Aldersley | Contributing Writer | Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Watch out for this creepy new trend on public transport

Cyber-Flashing: The Creepy New Public Transport Trend We Wish We'd Never Heard of

The Debrief: As if rush hour in London wasn't gross enough, you could now find an unwanted dick pick popping up on your home screen.

Gone are the days when flashers needed a trench coat and an excess of (usually unwarranted) nerve to get their thrill. Faced with TfL’s Report It To Stop It campaign, imaginative creeps have discovered yet another way to intimidate women on public transport; by sending unsolicited and explicit images directly to their iPhones.  

This alarming trend, known as ‘cyber-flashing’ has become increasingly and worryingly common on the London Underground and New York Metro. It works through Apple’s AirDrop feature - designed as an instant way of sharing content and images between IOS devices - leaving people susceptible to attack in any space with public Wifi. 

Yet again, the law is having to play catch-up to an emerging technological equivalent of a familiar crime – like cyber-bullying, revenge porn, and trolling before it, cyber-flashing is both easier to perform and get away with than its real-life counterpart. AirDrop preserves the anonymity of the offender – convenient for those unfortunate people who find the idea of a stranger seeing a photo of their genitalia quite exciting. Note - not even the real thing, a PHOTO. Yes, it’s tragic. 

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An image is visible even if you decline the request, which can leave women travelling alone feeling shaken and vulnerable – AirDrop only works if the devices are within 30 feet of each other. On a crowded train, there is therefore no way to know who is targeting you - it could be the guy sitting right next to you, or it could be some hidden observer. Both prospects are equally unsettling. 

Despite increasing anecdotal evidence from victims, including a Huffington Post journalist, incidents are categorically not being reported to police. And it’s easy to understand why – without a name or a face there is a broad consensus that police will be unable to track down the offender. As is sadly the case with most one-off incidents of sexual harassment, many women also feel they will not be taken seriously should they come forward. 

But cyber-flashing is an invasion of privacy and criminal offence – a conviction could land the perpetrator on the sex offenders register. Given that these men are unconcerned the prospect of invading a phone belonging to a child, this seems wholly appropriate.

How To Avoid Being Cyber-Flashed

Go to the home screen of your Iphone and swipe up from the bottom – there you should see your AirDrop status, which will be one of: Off, Contacts Only or Everyone. To be safe, keep AirDrop firmly off and turn it on as and when required. 

What To Do If It Happens To You

Kate Forsyth, detective chief inspector for the British Transport Police (BTP), told HuffPost UK you should 'remain calm, retain the image and report the matter to police as soon as possible.'

To report any unwanted sexual behaviour on public transport, you can call the police on 101, or text 61016 if you need to be discreet. Give as much detail as you can – nothing is too small or trivial. 

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Follow Miranda on Twitter @mirandakate14


Tags: Tech