'Revenge Porn' - Beware Before You Share

By Solicitor at 00:00

Journalist Anna Richardson will tonight highlight the dangers of sharing sexually explicit images in the Channel 4 documentary, 'Revenge Porn'. Richardson herself has issued a stark warning after she posted nude pictures of herself online as part of a documentary experiment.

Whilst revenge porn takes the media spotlight in today’s tabloids, it’s not new!

Following the introduction of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 a specific offence of "Revenge Pornography" has been introduced. Under this new legislation it is now a criminal offence to disclose sexual photographs and films without the consent of an individual who appears in the images and with intent to cause that individual distress. Prior to this specific offence being created various legislation, including the Communications Act 2003, Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Harassment Act 2007, were in place to criminalise these behaviours.

So, what are the main differences between the old and new legislation?

The new offence criminalises the sharing of private, sexual photographs or films, where what is shown would not usually be shown in public. Sexual material not only covers showing genitals but also anything that a reasonable person would consider sexual. The big change according to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is the sentence; the new offence can carry up to two years imprisonment. However, it is interesting to note that previously offences charged under the Harassment Act already carried the two year tariff!

Revenge porn is high on the public agenda. The MOJ has recently launched a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and the Crown Prosecution Service has issued guidance. Whilst this is not a new approach it will provide clarification for prosecutors as to what laws can be used to bring these cases to court.

Campaigners on the subject have criticised the new legislation claiming it does not go far enough when considering there is little control as to where the images end up on the internet. They argue there are significant loopholes where cases will fall through the net. For example, photographs edited via various software, such as Photoshop or Illustrator, are not covered under the legislation. Campaigners are also calling for tougher penalties with many believing that placing offenders on the Sex Offenders Register would be a stronger deterrent.

In the two years to September 2014 there were 149 allegations of revenge pornography, in the eight police forces who recorded it. Victims were as young as 11 and the majority were women. Only six incidents resulted in a police caution or charge. Only time will tell if this new legislation will make a difference.

I, for one, will certainly be watching tonight's documentary with interest.

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