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What is revenge porn, and what's the law on this?

Revenge porn is seemingly on the rise in the UK. According to statistics from 19 of 43 police forces in England and Wales, the number of alleged revenge porn cases being investigated by officers has more than doubled in the last four years (from 852 in 2015-16 to 1,853 in 2018-19).

Classified as a sexual offence in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, revenge porn, also known as imaged based sexual abuse, is the act of sharing intimate pictures or videos of someone either on or offline without their consent, to cause embarrassment and distress. It's punishable by up to two years imprisonment and a fine. In Scotland, revenge porn offenders face up to five years in jail.

Why is technology at the core of this crime?

With easy access to the internet and mobile phones becoming more intelligent, sharing images online has never been so quick and straightforward. The ability to take a photo or video on a smartphone and send it within a matter of seconds has meant that the sharing of private, sexual materials has become more prevalent in society. A study by security software firm, McAfee, found that 49 per cent of people sent a sexually motivated photo, text or video at some point in their lives.

Of course, "sending nudes" or "sexting" is not illegal when photos or videos are shared between consenting adults, yet there is a rise in people sharing intimate, sexual images of another person without their consent, and this criminal act is often committed by an ex-partner as a means of "revenge". Women are often the victims of revenge porn, with 80% of cases reported between January and April 2015 involving images of females.

What constitutes as revenge porn?

There are three main elements that need to be proven:

  • Disclosure of a private sexual photograph or film;
  • Without the consent of the person depicted; and
  • With the intention of causing that individual distress

As stated, the law covers explicit media online and offline, so this can include anything posted on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well as messages shared in text messages or apps such as WhatsApp. The law also covers the sharing of explicit material via email, on a website or distributing physical copies, like photographs or disks.

The act criminalises sharing private, sexual images or films containing scenes that would not usually be seen in public. Under the current law, the definition of 'private' is any material that would not ordinarily be viewed by the public. At the same time, 'sexual' refers to images or videos that expose a person's genitals or include content that a reasonable individual would consider to be sexual.

It's important to understand that legislation does not require the material in question to contain images of a person engaged in sexual activity and a state of full or partial nudity. If a victim was fully clothed and taking part in a sexual activity, this would still qualify as a criminal offence.

The intention to cause distress

A vital aspect of the law lies in proving that it was the perpetrator's intention to cause distress to the victim. It could be argued that any case of revenge porn is going to cause distress. Often revenge porn is used to shame or humiliate ex-partners, so in these scenarios, the intent is fairly evident, however, perpetrators may not have been motivated by revenge or any personal feelings towards the victim, so the term "revenge porn" can be somewhat misleading.

What are the consequences of revenge porn?

For most victims of revenge porn, it can be a painful and distressing experience, causing:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Difficulties in personal relationships
  • Loss of employment
  • Trouble finding employment

Children and young people

The BBC analysed Information requests from 31 forces in England and Wales between April and December 2015, finding 30% of offences involving young people under 19, while three of the 1,160 victims were 11 years old. A spokesman for the NSPCC said:

"It is shocking that children as young as 11 are becoming victims of revenge porn - and underlines the urgent need for action by social media sites to improve safety. Young people also need to be aware of the serious risks of sending explicit material or photos of themselves."

What should you do if you have been accused of revenge porn?

If you have been accused of revenge porn or you expect to be arrested, it's critical to seek expert legal advice as soon as possible. With growing awareness and its classification as a sexual offence in 2015, the prosecution of revenge porn cases has been treated sternly in UK criminal courts, with custodial sentences often imposed. The courts view the sharing of intimate pictures and videos as a severe offence, while most cases rely on a digital footprint, taking into account where the material was published as well as how intimate the content is. With a 24-hour helpline service available on 07000 81 82 83, we cover the length and breadth of the UK. Noble Solicitors has represented many high profile sex crime cases, involving:

  • Prostitution
  • Pornography
  • Gross indecency
  • Indecent Assault
  • Child sex offences
  • Rape
  • Revenge Porn
  • Indecent Images

To learn more about our experience or our broad range of legal services, please call us today or email, and we'll be in touch as soon as possible.

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