Government vows to protect women from unwanted penis photos

Image source, Getty Images

The government has promised action to protect women in England and Wales from unwanted images of male genitals on their smartphones.

According to a 2017 YouGov poll, 41% of 18 to 36-year-old women had received such images, which they found threatening and distressing.

The government - which has banned upskirting - said it would look at options for preventing cyber-flashing.

The commitment is part of a crackdown on violence against women and girls.

Some smartphone apps allow users to send anonymous pictures to others in their immediate vicinity, meaning women in restaurants, train carriages and other public places are at risk of seeing unsolicited explicit photos on their phones.

MPs on the Women and Equalities Committee last year called for "a new law on image-based sexual abuse which criminalises all non-consensual creation and distribution of intimate sexual images".

In an updated version of its Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy, published earlier, the government said it would look at the committee's recommendations and "whether there is more we can do to address this".

In the YouGov survey, 46% of women aged under 36 said they have been sent a photo of a penis, with 41% saying they had not asked for it. Only 22% of the men surveyed admitted to sending such a picture and only 5% admitted sending an unsolicited picture.

YouGov surveyed 2,121 women and 1,738 men (all aged 18-36) between July and September 2017.

The government has also said it will commission research into "what links exist between consumption of online pornography and harmful attitudes towards women and girls" and the causes, impacts and influencers of body dissatisfaction.

Previous studies have examined connections between porn and sexual violence, but the new analysis will investigate whether there is any broader link to harmful attitudes towards women.

Other plans explored in the strategy include:

  • A statutory code of practice for employers on sexual harassment
  • Work with online dating apps to raise awareness among users
  • Consider the impact of alcohol on violence against women and girls
  • Develop further measures to support lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender victims

The strategy also promises a review of the way sexual offences are handled by the police and the courts, following an "alarming" fall in charges being brought.

The volume of "rape-flagged" referrals from police fell by nearly a tenth in 2017-18, while the number of suspects charged by the CPS dropped by 23%.

Convictions were down by just under 12%, although the conviction rate went up slightly.

This data includes cases initially reported as rape allegations, but where charges for other offences were subsequently brought.

The strategy also sets out plans for research to consider whether, as has been suggested by some academics, "rape myths" may be negatively affecting the ability of juries to analyse the evidence and make informed, objective judgements on the merits of each case.

Minister for Women Victoria Atkins said: "Violence against women and girls strikes at the heart of our families, friendships and communities and it is our responsibility to bring light, justice and support to victims and survivors."