In Depth

Revenge porn: what is the law in the UK?

Government orders review that could see victims given automatic anonymity

Victims of so-called revenge porn could be granted the same anonymity in court as those who suffer other sexual offences, as part of a review of online abuse laws.

The ministries of justice and culture have asked the Law Commission to investigate whether legislation surrounding the non-consensual sharing of intimate images protects those targeted and has kept pace with technological change, The Guardian reports. The move comes “just four years after sharing explicit photos of ex-partners was made a specific crime by the Tory government”, adds the Daily Mirror.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “We’ve already set out world-leading plans to put a new duty of care on online platforms towards their users, overseen by an independent regulator with teeth.

“This review will ensure that the current law is fit for purpose as we deliver our commitment to make the UK the safest place to be online.”

What are the current laws on revenge porn and similar abuses?

England and Wales introduced a law in 2015 that makes it an offence to send intimate images without consent, both online and in the form of printed pictures, with a maximum sentence of two years in prison. Scotland and Northern Ireland later passing similar legislation.

The laws were introduced despite some opposition on the grounds that the offences could be covered by existing laws about blackmail and obscenity.

Earlier this year, specific legislation was also introduced to outlaw “upskirting”  - taking sexually intrusive photographs up someone’s skirt or dress without their permission. This crime carries a maximum two-year jail sentence as well.

What is not covered by existing leglslation?

UK law currently makes no specific provision for “cyberflashing” - when people are sent unsolicited sexual images of the perpetrator - although it could be prosecuted under other laws.

It also fails to cover “deepfake” pornography, where an individual’s face is superimposed onto pornographic photos or video footage.

And campaigners say that existing revenge porn laws are “not fit for purpose”, because they do not make it illegal to threaten to make intimate images public, the BBC reported in May. Activists are also calling for victims to receive anonymity.

Why don’t victims already have guaranteed anonymity?

Although UK law makes the sending of intimate images without consent an offence, it is categorised as a “communications crime” - which means the identities of victims are not automatically concealed, as they are in cases of sexual abuse or rape.

Sophie Mortimer of the Revenge Porn Helpline told the BBC that many women are not coming forward as a result. Mortimer is also calling for better training for police officers, after research by the University of Suffolk found that 95% of police officers who took part in a survey in 2017 had not had any training on revenge porn legislation.

Maria Miller MP, chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, has welcomed the new review, which is due to report back in 2021. “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,” Miller said.

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