Revenge porn victims could get better protection in sexual abuse laws overhaul

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The review will consider a range of digital trends (PA)

Victims of revenge porn could be granted better protection as part of a possible overhaul of image-based sexual abuse laws, the Government has announced.

Moves to bring revenge porn – the sharing of non-consensual explicit images without the subject’s permission – in line with other sexual offences has been long called for by campaigners.

The offence is currently dealt with under communications legislation, meaning victims are not automatically granted anonymity in the same way victims of other sexual abuse are.

The Government said it has asked the independent legal reform watchdog the Law Commission to examine existing legislation to ensure it is keeping pace with advancements in technology.

But campaigners said they were disappointed that a lengthy review would not see a swift solution to the issues surrounding “outdated” laws.

Justice Minister Paul Maynard and Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright have intervened amid concerns it has become easier to create and distribute sexual images of people online without their permission.

The review, which the Government said “will be launched shortly”, will consider a range of digital trends such as cyber-flashing – when people receive unsolicited sexual images of someone over the phone – and “deepfake” pornography – the practice of superimposing an individual’s face on to pornographic photos or videos without consent.

The move comes two months after a specific upskirting law was introduced for England and Wales, following a high-profile campaign that complained victims were left without access to justice through existing legislation.

The Government said the review will also consider the case for granting automatic anonymity to revenge porn victims, so they cannot be named publicly, as is the case for victims of sexual offences.

Mr 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.

“This review will build on our recent work to make ‘upskirting’ and revenge porn illegal to protect victims and ensure perpetrators feel the full weight of the law.”

The Government said existing voyeurism laws present a legal avenue for victims of image-based sexual abuse such as fakeporn.

However, such prosecutions are extremely rare.

Conservative MP Maria Miller, chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, told the Press Association the announcement would be welcomed by victims and campaigners after years of calls for updates to the law.

She 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.

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

Professor David Ormerod QC, criminal law commissioner at the Law Commission, said: “Behaviours such as taking, making and sharing intimate images without consent, or co-ordinated online harassment, causes distress and can ruin lives.

“If the criminal laws are not up to scratch, we will propose reforms that simplify the current patchwork of offences to provide more effective protection for victims.”

Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said victims needed access to justice at an earlier stage than any Law Commission review could guarantee.

She said: “While ministers claim tackling this sort of abuse is a priority, they launch a review which will take two years to report. Any new laws and protection are years away.

“Given the speed of technological change, how quickly online abuse evolves and how harmful it is right now, this is completely unacceptable.”

Clare McGlynn, professor in law at Durham University and an expert on image-based sexual abuse, said: “While I welcome the Government’s acknowledgement of the need for comprehensive law reform, we need to act now before more people’s lives are shattered.

“We don’t need further consultation to understand how urgent this is.

“Law reform is only the start; the Government must act now to increase resources to support victims.”

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