'Revenge Porn' - Beware Before Your Share

By Hayley Cooper at 00:00

Channel 4’s recent documentary on this issue highlighted the increasing prevalence of “Revenge Porn” offences due to the explosion of smart phones and the speed and ease at which digital information (including images and videos) can be transferred and viewed online.  The documentary suggested that 46% of young people surveyed had sent a rude text.  Many did not consider the privacy aspect and repercussions further down the line.  The documentary showed that images the journalist uploaded of herself received 13k hits or views in one day and after 3 days the images had been viewed on 43,000 occasions.  This demonstrated how quickly the situation can get out of control in the fast developing digital world.

This danger has led to some campaigners to call for tougher penalties, claiming the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill does not go far enough to combat this emerging digital trend.  M.P.’s have been asked to close a loophole meaning that victims do not retain anonymity through the court process.  There are also calls by experts for sex and relationship education to become compulsory in schools so that issues surrounding consent and respect can be aired and challenged from an early age. 

In the six months since the legislation was introduced there have been 175 ‘revenge porn’ cases reported to police, involving some perpetrators as young as 12.  The figures obtained via a Freedom of Information Request only include data from 18 police forces, just over 1/3 of the police forces in England and Wales and may only be the tip of the Iceberg, also suggesting perhaps the prevalence of this type of crime was grossly underestimated. 

A number of ‘revenge porn’ cases have now reached sentence in the courts.  Despite the new legislation carrying 2 years imprisonment, defendants from 21 to 35 have received sentences ranging from community order through to prison.  The majority of sentences appear to have been suspended imprisonment.  In a local case on Merseyside, David Jones was believed to be the first person sentenced under revenge porn legislation after posting 12 images taken 20 years ago.  He received 3 months immediate imprisonment.  Sean Pinkney was sentenced on the 13/08/15 at Manchester Magistrates Court and received 20 weeks immediate imprisonment.

I would suggest these cases are receiving attention and being taken seriously by the courts.  The difficulty is that in the UK alone there are 30 different pornographic internet sites that focus on revenge porn, quite apart from more commonly accessed social networking sites of facebook, whats app, Instagram and Twitter.  I have witnessed the more common social networking sites being used in criminal offences of this type and not the specialist revenge porn sites suggested in the documentary. But this makes the offence no less serious, with experts saying that victims frequently contemplate suicide following disclosure of such images.

The figures also suggest that despite the sentences being handed out by the courts, one in five cases are dropped following a complainant refusing to support the prosecution.  Only time will tell if legislation really does have an impact. One thing is for sure, this is a topic that is not going away.  I hope that by remaining in the media spotlight and generating an increased awareness as a result of the Government Campaign, the message of “Be aware before you share” really does get through and individuals do not find themselves falling foul of the revenge porn legislation in the future.

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