Exhibitionism has turned digital.
Not sure what we’re talking about when we say “exhibitionism”? Here’s an example of a classic but upsetting case of “flashing” from one of our supporters:
“I was visiting London with a friend of mine. The trip was a high school graduation present from our [respective] parents,” Sara shared with us in an exclusive interview. “We were walking through King’s Cross (London’s most heavily used train station) toward our train when this lanky man in a trench coat began purposefully walking toward us. Both my friend and I felt kinda weird, but at the same time, we were surrounded by people [so I didn’t think he could hurt us]. All of a sudden, the guy opened his trench coat. And, well, he wasn’t wearing anything underneath… we saw everything.”
Pretty disturbing, right?
“We were shocked. We didn’t know what to do,” Sara went on. “He gave us this, like, sick smile, closed his trench coat, and quickly walked the other way. He was gone before we could report him or do anything about it.”
Sara is not alone in her story. That “lanky” man’s behavior is a common example of exhibitionism, and sadly, it’s more common than you might think.
Recently, though, exhibitionism has taken a more sketchy and anonymous turn thanks to the iPhone. More specifically, the iPhone’s AirDrop feature, which allows users to share files to other Apple devices within a 100-foot radius.
When the feature gets thrown into the “exhibitionist” mix, you get the new phenomenon of “cyber flashing.” And it’s every bit as concerning as it sounds.
What is “cyber flashing?”
“Cyber flashing” is a new online trend in Australia which includes sharing explicit content using AirDrop with others who are in the immediate vicinity of an AirDrop connection.
The biggest issue with “cyber flashing” is that the recipient doesn’t have to confirm the image’s AirDrop to see it immediately. AirDrop’s content preview causes the image to pop up on the recipients’ screen. If they “accept” it, it downloads, but if they don’t, it goes away—but not without seeing it.
It’s this inability of the AirDrop recipient to choose whether or not they want to see the content—this is what’s causing the high tech form of exhibitionism.
Former police officer with the technology crime unit, Paul Litherland, who now educates students on cyber safety, says it is “the old guy in a trench coat situation… being reflected to the online world.”
He goes on to say, “You could be sitting on a train and someone may identify you on AirDrop… They can send you that image and get that same gratification that a flasher would have got in the 70s and 80s when this sort of technology wasn’t around.” Gross.
So then, what’s the deal with “cyber flashing?” Why is it a thing?
Why are people “cyber flashing?”
While most of us see this form of behavior as incredibly strange, others feel it is a necessity because of a mental disorder they have.
Allow us to explain: one of the primary reasons someone might “cyber flash” is due to exhibitionistic disorder. The disorder is a psychological condition marked by the urge, fantasy, or act of exposing one’s genitals to non-consenting people, particularly strangers. People that have this disorder experience atypical sexual arousal patterns that are accompanied by anxiety, sorrow, or an inability to think and feel properly.
The second reason “cyber flashing” is becoming more prevalent, according to an ABC report, is because of the way it is being used to bully, intimidate, and humiliate individuals.
In some cases, this has included the sexualization side of flashing, but in others, according to Litherland, “We’re seeing [kids send] inappropriate photos and memes, or photos that have been edited that might be used to bully or act inappropriately towards a particular student.”
If you’re thinking to yourself that there must be a way to stop strangers or bullies at school from sending you these kinds of things, you’d be right.
What can be done to stop it?
Obviously, when it comes to public forms of exhibitionism, such as what Sara and her friend experienced, you can’t do a whole lot other than being aware of your surroundings and reporting the scenario to security or your local authorities.
However, when it comes to “cyber flashing,” a lot can be done.
You can avoid receiving any content at all from perpetrator’s simply by changing your AirDrop settings from public to private. This blocks everyone but contacts in your phone from being able to share files with you.
You should also do your best to remain educated regarding the dangers online—especially when it comes to AirDrop flashers because of the fact that perpetrators can harm you anonymously.
Why this matters
Exhibitionism of any form, including “cyber flashing” is not okay—it’s completely illegal. Yet, the porn industry normalizes this toxic behavior in its videos and makes it seem funny, cool, or sexy when it’s none of those things.
A quick search on any porn site will show you this is the case:
“Vixen teen model exhibitionist gets f—ed everywhere by her dominating sug,” 19.5 million views.
“Argentina exhibitionist wife is groped and f—ed by stranger,” 1.7 million views.
“Mature exhibitionist master—ing in public on pavements,” 223,000 views.
Porn site after porn site brings up countless videos like these, all of which play out slightly differing scripted versions of what Sara and her friend went through while in London.
Here’s the bottom line: if we are going to protect men, women, and children, like Sara and her friend, from this sort of behavior, we must be aware of what normalizes and promotes harmful behavior.
This is why we fight against sexual exploitation and fight for love, instead.