Revenge porn: Government to review image-based sexual abuse law

Image source, Getty Images

Victims of so-called revenge porn could be given better protection as part of a review of image-based sexual abuse laws, the government has announced.

Campaigners have been calling for victims to have the same protection of anonymity as other sexual offences.

The Law Commission will examine the legislation around the sharing of explicit images without consent.

Sophie Mortimer, from the Revenge Porn helpline, said she would encourage a move to make it a sexual offence.

Sharing explicit images without consent became an offence in England and Wales in April 2015, with similar laws introduced later in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

It is currently categorised as a "communications crime", meaning victims are not granted anonymity as other victims of sexual abuse are.

Campaigners, including Love Island contestant Zara McDermott, have called for this to change.

The government has said the review, to be "launched shortly", will consider the case for granting automatic anonymity to such victims, so they cannot be named publicly, as is the case for victims of sexual offences.

The review will also take in "cyber-flashing" - when people receive unsolicited sexual images on their phone - and "deepfake" pornography, which is the practice of superimposing an individual's face on to pornographic photos or videos without consent.

It comes after a specific "upskirting" law was introduced for England and Wales after campaigners complained victims were left without access to justice through existing legislation.

Media caption,
WATCH: My revenge porn story

Ms Mortimer, manager of the Revenge Porn helpline, said she would "strongly encourage a move to make the disclosure of private images a sexual offence, guaranteeing victims anonymity and giving the necessary reassurance to come forward and make formal complaints".

"We would also like to see threats to share intimate images made a specific offence, the inclusion of manipulated images and images in underwear in the definition and the removal of the intention in order to cause distress," she added.

About 4,400 people have contacted the helpline seeking support and advice since it opened in 2015.

Media caption,
Ms Crighton-Smith explains how she was cyber-flashed

Justice Minister Paul Maynard said: "No-one should have to suffer the immense distress of having intimate images taken or shared without consent.

"We are acting to make sure our laws keep pace with emerging technology and trends in these disturbing and humiliating crimes."

He said the review will ensure that perpetrators will "feel the full weight of the law".

'Ruins lives'

The government said existing voyeurism laws offer a legal avenue for victims of image-based sexual abuse such as fake porn.

However, prosecutions are extremely rare.

Conservative MP Maria Miller, chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, said: "I'm really glad - we need a specific image-based sexual abuse law to get rid of the fragmented approach to dealing with these offences which is currently in place," she said.

"This patchwork law at the moment is difficult both for victims to understand and for police to implement."

Professor David Ormerod QC, from the Law Commission, said the sharing of intimate images without consent "causes distress and can ruin lives".

He said if they find the existing laws are "not up to scratch", reforms will be proposed to simplify the "current patchwork of offences" to provide "more effective protection for victims".

Clare McGlynn, professor in law at Durham University and an expert on image-based sexual abuse, said while she welcomed the review "we need to act now before more people's lives are shattered".

She said law reform was "only the start" as the government needed to increase resources to support victims.

Last year, US YouTuber Chrissy Chambers made headlines when she won her "revenge porn" case against an ex-boyfriend.

She was awarded damages from the British man, who posted videos online of them having sex in 2013.

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