A campaign to make cyber-flashing illegal features Genie Espinosa’s cartoonishly sinister characters

“It’s illegal to flash someone irl, so why not online?” asks Grey London’s campaign for sexual health charity Brook, featuring the illustrator’s signature colourful figures.

17 September 2021

How many young people have been victims of unsolicited nudes? In our digital age, receiving these types of images is all too common. It’s also a form of sexual harassment which can cause emotional distress, but it continues to happen unregulated. According to a 2018 YouGov poll, four in ten young women said they had been sent a photograph of a penis without having asked for one, with 46 per cent of these women saying they were under 18 when it first happened. 26% of 18-24 year old men have reported receiving unsolicited nudes.

A new campaign led by sexual health and wellbeing charity for young people, Brook, hopes to now make “cyberflashing” illegal. Motivated by the government’s lack of response to the issue – despite, in 2018, the Women and Equalities Committee recommending the introduction of a law criminalising cyberflashing as a sexual offence – the charity has enlisted advertising agency, Grey London. The timing is also particularly pertinent as, in July 2021, a Law Commission review recommended that cyberflashing be made a criminal offence and said that current figures on it were just “the tip of the iceberg”.

Illustrator and comic book author Genie Espinosa – who’s worked with Apple, Nike, Spotify and Vice, to name a few – often uses the innocence of childhood illustrative aesthetics to convey deeper and perhaps darker messages. Creatives Orla O’Connor and Daisy Bard at Grey London felt that the bold colours and cartoonish style from Espinosa were a way to “divorce the design from the reality of how traumatic cyber flashing can be, and therefore avoid triggering people.” Simultaneously, they were keen to accent characters with slightly sinister facial expressions to represent the aggression of the act. “Genie was the perfect artist to help us get across this balance.”

Because Brook represents young people navigating their sexual journeys, as the creatives claim, they wanted a design that would speak to young people directly. Not a poster but a branded print that they would want to photograph and in turn “opening our QR code to tweet their MP.” Thus, the design becomes multifaceted in both aesthetics and practicality. “Brook have an incredibly bright colour palette, this was a huge inspiration for the design,” continue O’Connor and Bard. “This would make the posters a stop-on-the-street moment.”


Genie Espinosa: Stop Cyberflashing Campaign (Copyright © Brook, 2021)

Due to the sensitive nature of the project, there was some debate over how to handle the genitals, so Grey London opted to pixelate them using the useful QR code: “The QR code looked exactly like a pixilation patch so it was easily read as a pixelated phallus. This also meant we were less likely to trigger victims of cyberflashing.” The creative team then took this idea further with their social assets, “by pixelating fruit and veg that have been used to represent penises online.”

Most of the inspiration for the campaign’s design was taken from the online world. “Our sketches were done drawing real dick pics!” say the two creatives. Whilst the typeface and yellow highlight behind the copy was to reflect the world of legal paperwork in order to reflect the aim of policy change. The tweet was designed to become a separate asset that can live and be shared online separated from the poster.

Lisa Hallgarten, head of policy and public affairs at Brook, says the charity “want to challenge the misconception that cyberflashing is harmless or just a joke. Sending unsolicited images can cause distress and intimidation, and it needs to be recognised as sexual harassment.” There also needs to be better understanding, she claims, around consent “so that everyone is equipped to develop safe, healthy relationships both online and in the real world.”

The campaign will roll out on billboards across the UK, as well as appearing online on social media and digital channels. It shall go live on 13 September, ahead of Brook’s Sexual Health Week and the theme of which is consent.

To read more about the campaign click here.

GalleryGenie Espinosa: Stop Cyberflashing Campaign (Copyright © Brook, 2021)

GalleryGrey London: Stop Cyberflashing Campaign (Copyright © Brook, 2021)

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Genie Espinosa: Stop Cyberflashing Campaign (Copyright © Brook, 2021)

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About the Author

Dalia Al-Dujaili

Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.

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