Alex Whiston-Dew writes for Independent
07 September 2016

Alex Whiston-Dew writes for Independent

Revenge porn is back on the public radar following the news that over 200 people were prosecuted for disclosing private sexual images without consent in the year 2015-16. This data shows that victims and police are becoming increasingly confident in tackling revenge porn, but more must be done to support victims and deter perpetrators.

The rise of this issue has been linked to the increase in the use of social media. More and more, people are conducting their private lives online. It's a small step for those comfortable with expressing themselves through technology, via socially acceptable sexually provocative selfies, to share more revealing private images as part of a consensual sexual relationship. But the ease with which these images can be shared online by the recipient is rarely understood. Not many people realise that there are specialist revenge porn websites, established for the purpose of publishing sexual images and films without the consent of the subject and to cause maximum harm through public humiliation.

Of course, publication is not limited to these websites and I have seen cases where sexual, intimate images have been published on a victim's Facebook account, Twitter, Instagram and then directly to members of religious communities, family members or employers with devastating results.

The law in England and Wales still does not provide effective tools to deal with offences committed online, and this includes revenge porn. New legislation came into force in April 2015 to target specifically the disclosure of private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress. Unfortunately there are problems when applying the new offence to real life situations. In order to prosecute there is a need to demonstrate that the perpetrator intended to cause distress. This is hard to evidence and is a relatively high threshold when compared with other offences like harassment. The definition of what is sexual or private is confusing for victims and some images that seem like they should be caught by the new offence are not – including when a victim's face is photoshopped onto a pornographic image. This, coupled with the crippling shame of the publication of a private photograph can prevent women and young or vulnerable people from taking action.

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