Cyber flashing is on the increase

Targets of cyber flashing not reporting these incidents – it is time to look at why.


A network contact received an explicit photo of naked male genitalia, or in the vernacular, a dick pic. Legally it is called cyber flashing. The person was a total stranger and could only have obtained her phone number from LinkedIn. This is one of the reasons I advise caution against posting a phone number on the site. I posed the question gently in my network and was surprised at the response. It was more than a handful.

Another contact received a similar hideous visual via LinkedIn, complete with socks. Picture that. No don’t. It unsettled her stomach for many months.

Experts say that cyber flashing cases are on the increase, but are largely unreported, either because targets don’t feel the incident is serious enough to flag up or they don’t know what to do about it.

cyber flashing

What’s behind cyber flashing?

There are a number of studies around the psychology of what is behind cyber flashing which is clearly anti-social at best, or potentially deviant behaviour.

• Men get a thrill out of it – it’s the modern version of a creep in a raincoat of my youth
• It’s about control and dominance
• It’s poor impulse control, especially when associated with substance abuse
• It’s a show of anger and hostility towards women

Stephen Blumenthal a Clinical Psychologist and Psychoanalyst at the Portman Hospital London, specialising in sexual behaviour, suggests that “In In almost every case of real-world indecent exposure, he says, there will have been a childhood incident where the perpetrator endured a trauma that made him feel out of control.” For cyber flashing, he adds “Some will be trying to impress, whereas some will be seeking to intrude. And this intrusive aspect is an important one,”  In the case of online exposure he suggests that faceless anonymity emboldens them to act out their fantasies with little fear of consequences.

I have worked in the space of sexism and harassment for over a decade. Way before it was a thing. This type of behaviour is frequently a gateway behaviour. The gentleman over time could be emboldened to do far worse.


What you can do

If this happens to you, you have two responsibilities:

✔️ to yourself to make sure you are O.K. and get the support you need from a counsellor or specialist
✔️ to stop it from happening to someone else.

🎯 Report to the police

My observation is that the police may not take it seriously unless the perpetrator has prior offences so worth reporting.  But it does put him in the system. It also allows them to keep track of him in case there is a pattern. He may even have a criminal record. When Sarah Everard a  British marketing executive was so brutally murdered when she walked home in London, her body was identifiable only by her dental records, the murderer was a known flasher.

One act of serious harassment is a criminal offence in some geographies. In others, it’s an act of harassment.

🎯 Report to LinkedIn

LinkedIn are not well known for dealing correctly with acts of sexism, harassment or sexual abuse. Because it didn’t happen via InMail there may not be much support. In the aforementioned sock incident, it was the individual who took the necessary action.

🎯 To the employer

What does this incident tell us about a  person’s attitudes to women? Certainly not that he respects them. This man may have direct female reports. He may be in a position of responsibility. Perhaps he spends time with women on their own so the employer will usually take action.

I observed in different responses in discussions on this topic “you don’t want to ruin his life.” Really? You are not his mother and he has to learn there are consequences for this kind of behaviour. He probably also needs therapy. We have to stop normalising deviancy. He clearly didn’t think about the target’s life and flashers are not usually high on empathy.

🎯 Public naming and shaming

We frequently see naming and shaming in the public domain for minor acts of sexism and harassment. But cyber flashing is a far cry from “hey beautiful.” It also produces the reaction of ”he was drunk”, “he didn’t mean ityou can’t you take a joke?”  


Download our Podcast: How to stage a Bystander Intervention in the Workplace


Merging internet and in-person

Women, and everyone else, should be able to feel safe wherever they are. Unfortunately, personal security online is getting increasingly difficult. The anonymity of the internet facilitates online behaviour that men may not contemplate in the real world, which gives them distance from the idea of any consequences.

However, online and in-person activities are merging. AirDrop is an App that allows users to share and receive photos, documents, with other Apple devices that are nearby. You do not have to be a contact. The app has facilitated a rise in cyber flashing but more frighteningly the individual needs to be close by. Make sure you adjust your settings so you only receive data from your contact list.

This makes it more important that there are consequences.  See something. Say something. Take Action

Editor’s note: We discovered that using the phrase “d*ick pic is seen on some platforms as sensitive content. We  have added the asterisk not because we don’t believe in calling a spade a spade but didn’t want to limit the circulation. Thanks for your understanding. 

3Plus has been working in the area of sexism  and harassment in organisations for over a decade.

Get in touch to hear about our workshops and eLearning courses.

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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