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Government announces review of image-based sexual abuse laws

Posted on 26 June 2019

The government has announced that victims of 'revenge porn' could receive better protection as part of a review of image-based sexual abuse laws. The review is expected to consider the case for granting automatic anonymity to victims, preventing them from being named publicly - as they would be if they were the victim of a sexual offence.

Commenting on this development, Mishcon de Reya Reputation Protection lawyer Alexandra Whiston-Dew said:

"Those working with the victims of online abuse were pleased that a specific offence was created to deal with the sharing of intimate images without consent, where there was an intention to cause distress, commonly referred to as 'revenge porn'. However, there are significant issues.

"Currently, the 'revenge porn' offence is classified as a communications offence, the rationale being that the intention of perpetrators tends to be malicious rather than sexual. This means however that victims aren't automatically granted anonymity as victims of sexual offences are. Evidence suggests that this lack of anonymity is proving a real barrier to victims coming forward, and that the offence is being under-reported as well as under-prosecuted. Arguably, if the MOJ wants the new legislation to be effective, then the offence must be reclassified and/or anonymity otherwise extended to revenge porn victims.

"The 'revenge porn' offence does not cover 'deepfake pornography' because an image that is created - for example by superimposing an individual's head on a pornographic image - does not qualify. Further, 'cyber-flashing' may amount to the dissemination of an intimate image but the 'revenge porn' offence deals with the lack of consent of the individual in the image, rather than the lack of  consent of those receiving the image.

"There are existing criminal and civil laws that go some way towards protecting victims of 'cyber-flashing' and 'deepfake pornography', but they do not address all of victims' concerns. Developing new legislation that tackles the specific ways individuals abuse others online will ensure that victims, the police and the CPS have the tools they need to seek justice. In developing such legislation, lawyers can provide helpful guidance, but victims themselves need to be heard so that the legislation can really work for them."

Alexandra featured on the Victoria Derbyshire programme talking about this issue. View the clip here, from 18 minutes in (available for 28 days only).

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