The Government Missed A Crucial Deadline To Support Victims Of Sexual Harassment

It failed to respond to calls for a new law on cyberflashing.

The government has missed a crucial deadline to respond to politician’s calls for a new law on cyberflashing – the non-consensual sending of sexual images over AirDrop and other digital platforms.

The Women and Equalities Committee published a report on 23 October calling for new legislation that would criminalise the creation and distribution of unrequested dick pics, but on Saturday the official date for a response passed.

Conservative MP Maria Miller, who chairs the committee, confirmed to HuffPost UK that her office had received no communication from the government: under guidelines it is expected to respond within 60 days of the initial release.

The government is now on Christmas break and will not be back at Westminster till 7 January – 76 days after the report was made public.

To date nearly 50 women have contacted HuffPost UK via email, Facebook or Twitter to share their own stories of being cyberflashed: on public transport, at work, in lecture theatres, in the cinema and in their own homes, reporting behaviour that left them feeling “violated”, “sick” and “uncomfortable”.

Many of those women went on to say they feel it is imperative the government introduces new legislation. Jenny Briggs, 27, who was sent dick pics on a commuter train in London earlier this year, said: “We need women to feel safe in public spaces and this will be a crucial step forward.”

And Jess Shepherd, 29, who was sent dick pics outside a bar in Manchester in April said she would also welcome a change in law “as a measure to show the severity of the act” to those considering cyberflashing.

Other women are going to great lengths to avoid becoming victims – changing the name of their phones to male names, disabling all bluetooth functionality or avoiding the route where they were cyberflashed.

Laura Thompson, a lead researcher in this area at City University, says that cyberflashing is a continuation of the sexual harassment and violence that disproportionately affects women and girls.

“This sort of safety work is a never-ending task throughout women’s lives. It impacts on their freedom, sense of security, and ability to occupy public spaces. Now that digital technologies can also be used to harass and perpetrate new image-based sexual offences, this unjust burden on women is growing.”

Maria Miller, who herself has been sent dick pics on Twitter, and the Labour MP Jess Phillips have been campaigning on the issue of cyberflashing for several months.

In an exclusive interview with HuffPost UK in November, Miller said failure of the government to legislate was “sleepwalking” into a crisis. “What the government needed a year ago, indeed two, was a comprehensive bill against all image-based abuse,” she said.

Both MPs also spoke about how they feared the upskirting bill recently passed in parliament was a “box-ticking exercise” and not making real change. “I sometimes worry that campaigns like upskirting are quick turnarounds not deep cultural change. That is the bit that worries me. It was knee-jerk,” said Phillips.

A spokesperson for the Women and Equalities Committee told Huffpost UK the delay was not the first time there had been a lag in response to reports on sexual harassment – the workplace report published in July only received a reply earlier this month.

The government is not legally bound by the two-month timeframe but is obliged to make their best endeavour to respond. Previously, the Minister for Women wrote to the committee to inform it that a government response to other reports would be delayed. No such notice has been given this time.

HuffPost UK has been in contact with the Home Office to establish when it intends to respond to the report, but no reply has been received.