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Cyber-flashing convict is first to be jailed under new law

Custody mugshot of Nicholas Hawkes
Nicholas Hawkes was sentenced to 52 weeks in jail for the cyber-flashing offences and 14 additional weeks for breaches of previous court orders

A convicted paedophile who sent a picture of his erect penis to a 15-year-old girl has become the first person to be jailed for cyber-flashing in England and Wales.

Registered sex offender Nicholas Hawkes, 39, of Basildon, Essex, also sent unsolicited photos to a woman.

The woman took screenshots of the WhatsApp image sent on 9 February and reported it to police the same day.

Hawkes, who admitted two charges, has been jailed for just over 15 months.

The offence was brought in under the Online Safety Act and came into effect on 31 January. It has been an offence in Scotland, which has a separate legal system, for more than a decade.

Passing sentence at Southend Crown Court, Judge Samantha Leigh said Hawkes was "disturbed" and had a "warped view of himself and his sexuality".

Cyber-flashing is an act typically involving an offender sending an unsolicited explicit image to people via an online platform, such as messaging applications and social media.

'Dangerous individual'

Hawkes was already a registered sex offender after he was given a community order last year for exposure and sexual activity with a child under 16. That registration ran until November 2033.

He has now been sentenced to 66 weeks in jail for two offences of sending a photograph or film of genitals to cause alarm, distress, or humiliation, and for breaching previous court orders.

Hawkes must comply with a 10-year restraining order and will be subject to a 15-year Sexual Harm Prevention Order.

Det Ch Insp James Gray, of Essex Police, said the defendant had "proven himself to be a dangerous individual".

"Perpetrators may think that by offending online they are less likely to be caught, however that is not the case," he added.

Hannah von Dadelszen, deputy chief crown prosecutor for the East of England, hailed the "speedy justice" served and said the new legislation was a "really important tool in a prosecutor's toolkit".

"It just gives the prosecution another string to its bow in terms of offending in the digital space," she said.

"Cyber-flashing 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.

"Just as those who commit indecent exposure in the physical world 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."

WhatsApp messenger logo
The woman took screenshots of the WhatsApp image sent by Hawkes on 9 February and sent them to the police

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk KC said: "Cyber-flashing is a degrading and distressing crime which cannot be tolerated or normalised.

"We've changed the law so those who perpetrate these vile acts face time behind bars, and today's sentence sends an unequivocal message that such behaviour will have severe consequences."

Prof Clare McGlynn, author of Cyber-flashing: Recognising Harms, Reforming Laws, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that she feared loopholes still remained in the law.

She said it was a "hard threshold" for prosecutors to prove if a defendant intended to cause alarm, distress or humiliation.

"They do say it was a form of banter or they were just doing it for a laugh and didn't mean any harm," said Prof McGlynn, of Durham University.

"Even if we know that's not the case, we have to prove an intention to cause distress."

Emily Atack
Emily Atack says at one point she was receiving thousands of unsolicited explicit images daily

The issue of cyber-flashing was explored in a BBC Two documentary last year called Emily Atack: Asking for It?.

Atack, the actor, presenter and campaigner, shared her personal experience of cyber-flashing and online harassment.

Speaking to the Today programme, Atack, from Luton, said she was "suffering in silence" after being sent "thousands and thousands" of unsolicited images online.

"I was receiving these messages from different men, different images, videos - anything you can think of," the 34-year-old said.

"I found that it was really chipping away at who I was as a person and I was questioning my entire being, everything I was as a woman.

"These behaviours have been normalised since the beginning of time and that is something we really need to look at."


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