Amending the law on Image Based Sexual Abuse (‘Revenge Porn’): Strengthen, Secure, Support

 

 

The Centre for Gender Equal Media (GEM) are attending the launch today of the ‘Reclaim the Internet’, a cross-party campaign against sexism online, being led by Yvette Cooper. We welcome the recognition the campaign gives to the ways in which online spaces, including social media, are frequently unsafe for women, limiting their access to creating and distributing information.

 

We will be speaking at today's event about the need to strengthen the laws on the disclosure of private, sexual images without consent (sec 33 of Criminal Justice & Courts Act 2015) – what is often called ‘revenge porn’, but we call image-based sexual abuse: a term that better reflects the nature and harm of these activities. We are launching a campaign to amend existing legislation, using the opportunity of the Digital Economy Bill about to go through Parliament. 

A short briefing on the changes we are calling for is available here.


We have four clear asks which will help to strengthen the law, secure justice and support victim-survivors.

 

Firstly, we are asking for anonymity to all complainants. Currently, there is no automatic anonymity for complainants, unlike for all other sexual offences. Yet, we know that many victim-survivors are reluctant to report this crime to the police because of fear of further shame, harassment and abuse. The police also are finding that victim-survivors are withdrawing from prosecutions because of fear of further publicity. Anonymity is particularly important for victims in these cases as not only would it assist complainants in coming forward (including women from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds who may be at risk of additional violence if their name is released); and currently there is additional harm created through the publication of complainants names, which when searched on the internet, reveals the images that are the cause of the offence.

 

Secondly, we want to ensure that the harm of pornographic photoshopping, where an ordinary photo is made sexual and explicit by superimposing pornographic body/acts, is recognised as a form of ‘image-based sexual abuse’. The current loophole in English law means that perpetrators are able to cause similar levels of harm and distress, as seen with 'revenge pornography', without being a risk of offending - seen in the recent case in Sussex. We are asking for the inclusion of images that have been photoshopped to appear as though they are private sexual images to be included within the scope of the law – as they are in Scotland.

 

Finally, we want the law to cover reckless intent. Currently the law requires an offender to have intended to cause distress to the victim, but there are many reasons why someone may share sexual images without consent. Images can be shared for financial gain, for a ‘laugh’ or from hacked or stolen computers/phones. The harm caused to victim-survivors does not diminish because of the intent of the offender. We ask that the law be amended, such that reckless intention to cause distress is sufficient.

 

These changes will enable more victim-survivors to come forward and will go some of the way towards shifting the stigma that falls mainly on women and girls who have generated sexual images of themselves: moving responsibility onto perpetrators of this form of abuse. As more people come forward we want a commitment to funding for specialist services, such as rape crisis centres, providing support and guidance, including where this is outside the criminal justice system, for victim-survivors of image based sexual abuse.

 

If you or your organisation would like to support these amendments, or to get updates on the campaign as it develops please contact us via info@genderequalmedia.org.uk.

 

For press or media enquires please contact Professor Clare McGlynn (Clare.McGlynn@durham.ac.uk @McGlynnClare).

 

Further Reading

GEM Co-founder Professor Clare McGlynn, a legal expert on image-based sexual abuse, has written extensively on the changes needed, together with her colleague Professor Erika Rackley.

Not ‘revenge porn’ but abuse: let’s call it image-based sexual abuse’, Everyday Victim Blaming, 9 March 2016

The new law against revenge porn is welcome, but no guarantee of successThe Conversation, 16 February 2015


 


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