BBC News

Less than half revenge porn cases passed to prosecutors

By Marc Ellison
Data journalist, BBC Scotland

image captionThe law was prompted in response to the ease at which pictures and videos could be shared publicly online

Less than half of so-called revenge porn cases reported to the police have been passed to prosecutors for further action, BBC Scotland has learned.

Between July and December last year, 225 complaints were reported to Police Scotland with just 89, or 39%, being referred to prosecutors.

Most victims were in their 20s, but a third were teenagers.

The force said the detection rate of these "complex" crimes was in line with the national average.

The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Act, which made it an offence to disclose, or threaten to disclose, intimate images or video without consent, came into force last summer.

People convicted of such a crime face up to five years in prison.

Women victims

The legislation came in response to the ease at which pictures and videos could be shared publicly online.

But new data - obtained by BBC Scotland through a series of freedom of information requests - revealed that so far 39% of reported incidents had been "detected" by Police Scotland.

The term "detected" means that an accused has been identified, and that a report may be referred to the Crown Office or the Scottish Children's Reporter for consideration.

The new legislation in Scotland came more than two years after a similar law was passed in England and Wales.

In the first nine months, 1,160 incidents were reported in England and Wales with no action taken in 61% of cases largely due to a lack of evidence or the victim withdrawing support.

The data obtained from Police Scotland showed:

  • The sharing of intimate photos (62%) was far more common than of videos (15%)
  • Facebook (20%) and Facebook Messenger (14%) were the most common means used to share intimate content
  • Victims were typically female (92%) and in their 20s (42%) - although a fifth of reports included teenage victims, with 15% of all cases relating to children under 16
  • Files were overwhelmingly shared by former partners (60%) - but a fifth of cases involved perpetrators unknown to the victim.
  • Images and video were also widely shared on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and porn and dating websites

'I was a victim of revenge porn'

media captionKelly McGurk says she is no longer scared of the man who sent intimate pictures of her to strangers

Kelly McGurk's world came crashing down around her the morning she received a Facebook message from a stranger.

It contained intimate screenshots of photos taken by her ex-partner, who she had broken up with six months before.

The 29-year-old beauty therapy student said: "I was angry because we'd been split up for so long, I was absolutely livid.

"I realised he did it because I wouldn't get back with him, that was his revenge towards me."

The screenshots also included two images that Kelly's former partner had taken without her knowledge.

media captionDet Supt Gordon McCreadie is Police Scotland's national lead for domestic abuse

A separate freedom of information request to the Crown Office revealed that 82 revenge porn charges were referred for consideration between July and December 2017.

To date, some of these charges have resulted in an unknown number of fines, prison sentences, community payback orders and harassment orders.

At least two people received a warning, and no action was taken in at least another two cases.

Susan Jack, a training and development worker with Glasgow's Women's Aid, said she was "disappointed to see such low levels of detections and convictions, particularly when this is compared with the number of reported incidents of revenge porn."

She added: "This is a crime where you would naturally assume evidence would be relatively easy to gather.

"One would hope that those hosting sites such as Facebook would be proactive in assisting the police with evidence gathering.

"Like so many crimes, it must be extremely difficult to come forward and extremely demoralising if the complaint does not progress."

'Police won't judge you'

Det Supt Gordon McCreadie, Police Scotland's national lead for domestic abuse, said that the "non-consensual sharing of intimate images is a very complex matter to investigate, and it depends very much on the technologies used by both the perpetrator and the victim".

He said the force was "content" with the detection rate of 39% which sits in line with the national average.

Mr McCreadie added: "We encourage victims to come forward early which will better enable us to get evidence from any devices, or provide support to them, and advise how best to minimise impact.

"There is still a need for corroboration, and I feel there is a degree of under-reporting in this area as people feel unnecessarily embarrassed.

"What I would say to victims is do not be embarrassed - the police will not judge the way in which you conduct your personal life."

While the data obtained by BBC Scotland suggested it was typically 20-29 year olds who reported instances of revenge porn, it also found that a number of older people had also been affected.

One woman in her 50s told of intimate images of her being uploaded to a swingers website by her ex-husband without her knowledge.

Anne (not her real name) told the BBC: "All these images were taken over a period of about eight years - I knew that because of how I looked.

"Every one of them was taken while I was sleeping."

Her ex-husband was jailed for two years for stalking, but a photo-related charge was dropped by the procurator fiscal.

media captionA victim of revenge porn says the whole experiencing made her feel filthy and embarrassed

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: "The impact of sharing intimate images can be hugely damaging and there is no place for it in our society.

"That is why the Scottish government brought forward legislation so those convicted of disclosing, or threatening to disclose, an intimate photograph or film may receive a custodial sentence of up to five years imprisonment.

"Whilst the investigation of crime is for Police Scotland, we will continue to work with our partners to make sure victims have access to the swiftest and most effective process possible."

Who has been prosecuted so far?

Related Topics

  • Police Scotland
  • Revenge porn

More on this story

  • 'We were victims of revenge porn'

  • Police say 'don't be embarrassed' to tell of revenge porn crimes