Cyberflashing In Schools: ‘I Hate That This Was One Of Her First Sexual Experiences – Something She Didn’t Want’

As Grazia campaigns to make cyberflashing illegal, Polly Dunbar investigates how the issue affects even school-age children.

cyberflashing in schools

by Polly Dunbar |
Updated on

One day last month, just after a maths lesson, Jane’s 14-year-old daughter Chloe received not one, but five unsolicited pictures of different classmates’ penises. ‘They ganged up and thought it would be funny to all send them at once,’ says Jane. ‘Then they watched her reaction as she opened them. She got really upset, which they found hilarious.’

Shocking as it seems, Chloe’s experience of cyberflashing – another term for these images - is far from unique. In fact, according to a recent investigation by Ofsted, this form of sexual harassment has become so common in schools that 9 out of 10 girls have been sent unwanted explicit videos or pictures ‘a lot’ or ‘sometimes’.

During the Covid pandemic, when schools have often had to close their doors, children have interacted online more than ever, which has sadly led to even greater opportunities for online abuse.

So normalised is cyberflashing – along with boys sharing nude photographs of girls on WhatsApp and Snapchat ‘like a collection game’ - that children no longer see the point in telling their teachers. Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman said, ‘It’s alarming that many child and young people, particularly girls, feel they have to accept sexual harassment as part of growing up. Whether it’s happening at school or in their social life, they simply don’t feel it’s worth reporting.’

As a result, according to the investigation, many teachers consistently underestimate the scale of the problem, with some dismissing it as harmless ‘banter’.

Chloe did report her experience to her mum, who informed her school. ‘The boys involved weren’t even suspended – they were given detentions,’ says Jane. ‘The school organised a special talk everyone had to attend about why they shouldn’t be doing this kind of thing, but the boys didn’t care – they got away with it, which just sent the message to all the others that what they did was OK.’

‘I hate that this was one of her first sexual experiences – something she didn’t want, done to make fun of her.’

At Grazia, we refuse to accept that teenage schoolgirls – and some who are even younger – should learn to take cyberflashing, whether on social media, via text even Airdrop, in their stride. Along with MPs Jess Phillips (Labour) and Maria Miller (Conservative), we’re calling for the Government to change the law and criminalise the practice.

Within the Online Safety Bill, legislation due to be published by the Government later this year, Maria and Jess want to see laws which criminalise those who send intimate images to somebody without their consent – an action Jess describes as a ‘power play’. ‘All violence against women and girls is a power play. It’s not about anything other than power and control.’

Maria chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for UN Women and has been campaigning since 2014 for better recognition in the law of the appalling abuse that women and girls receive online.


Of Ofsted’s findings that nine out of 10 girls have experienced cyberflashing, she says, ‘It is completely and utterly outrageous, but at the moment it’s not against the law. It is unacceptable that anyone feels they have a right to send abusive images like this, and online sexual abuse should never be the price that young girls have to pay for having a phone or using the internet.’

She adds, ‘Make no mistake, this isn’t just an unpleasant experience of seeing something you don’t want to – being sexually harassed in this way is a degrading and confidence-shattering form of abuse. It instils fear in victims, who might not know who’s sending these images and what they might do next.’

The fact this harassment is an everyday occurrence in many schools proves just how deeply harassment culture has taken root in society, particularly among the young. As Maria says, ‘We need to put an end to this culture of online impunity once and for all. Making cyberflashing a criminal offence is a start.’

The cyberflashing Chloe was subjected to has left her traumatised, says her mum. ‘I hate that this was one of her first sexual experiences – something she didn’t want, done to make fun of her,’ says Jane. ‘She’s been quieter and more withdrawn since, and I worry about her. I also worry that a generation of boys are growing up believing girls are just sex objects. If what they were doing was against the law, it would have to be taken more seriously by their teachers – and hopefully it would make them think twice.’

To prevent girls having to suffer this harassment at school, we need change, urgently. Let’s send the Government a message: unsolicited dick pics need to be properly recognised in the law. Sign Grazia’s petition and get our girls the protection they need.

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