Revenge porn - now a criminal offence

Ministry of Justice's Revenge porn campaign

An advertising campaign is focusing on the new criminal offence of revenge porn. People who distribute sexually explicit images of others without their consent can now face up to two years in prison, up from six months under previous laws.

The new legislation is not aimed at young people but could still have implications for them. 

What is the offence? 

The Crown Prosecution Service defines revenge porn as 'typically sexually explicit media that is publicly shared online without the consent of the pictured individual and is usually uploaded by ex-partners.'

Sometimes pictures are sent to family members; or the victim's name and address is published, occasionally with the suggestion that she (it's usually a she) is a sex worker. The aim is to embarrass, shame and cause distress.

No one knows the scale of the problem of revenge porn – the police don’t have figures, nor do the Crown Prosecution Service, or victims’ associations – but anecdotally the numbers are rising. It is certainly clear that revenge is a serious part of the porn industry: UK searches for the term have rocketed since 2012. More than 30 sites are used by perpetrators in the UK to upload content. The top-rated site, GF Revenge, has the tagline, 'Get sweet revenge on your ex girlfriend by submitting nudie pics fo $$$ CASH!' 

Revenge porn sites suggest the victims are to blame and to imply it’s their fault and 'no more than they deserve,' adding insult to injury.

Victims' organisations say that revenge porn is rarely an isolated incident: it is an attempt to control and manipulate by people who are probably emotionally and perhaps physically controlling as well.

Will it work?

The new law may be able to act against perpetrators but it has no power to remove the images. Victims have to contact individual webmasters to ask for them to be taken down and not all of these websites will be in the UK. Very often, by the time people find out they are a victim, the pictures are already on dozens of sites.

The helpline is designed to support victims as they try to get images taken down; it's also aimed at educating the public. A powerful idea underlying revenge porn is that victims are somehow to blame (women being sexual are still disapproved of). The new law and the campaign are designed to transfer the blame back where it belongs, onto the people who are doing the sharing.

What should parents know?

Under UK law, it is already illegal to publish images of under-18s with sexual content online. These are classified as child sex abuse images.

Yet one popular revenge porn site boasts ‘amateur teen submissions from people who want revenge on their ex-girlfriend' ; clearly, there has been an attempt by these sites to blur the distinctions between over-18s and under-18s because there is a market in images of younger-looking people. 

Children and young people should always be very wary of any sexual images they receive because having and distributing pictures of their underage friends is against the law.

With the introduction of this new offence, someone who distributes a sexual image of a person aged 18 or over might also now be involved in illegal activity.

How to talk to your child about revenge porn

The new offence provides a useful opportunity to talk to your children about safety and respect online:

  • Open a conversation about whether it's ever right to share images without permission. 
  • Ask them to consider the wisdom of recording sexually explicit images in the first place.
  • Remind them that sharing images of under-18s is illegal.
  • Emphasize the importance of being careful when sharing images – even ones that aren’t sexual.
  • Talk about how horrible it is to pass on embarrassing or upsetting pictures of someone else without their permission. 
  • Remind them where to report inappropriate or unwanted content that they see online.
  • Stress that the victim is not to blame. 
  • Talk about why some people want to control others and what respectful relationships look like.

Reporting revenge porn

You can report revenge porn, whether it's been shared by a vengeful ex-partner or a malicious third party who's managed to get hold of the image, on the new helpline:

 

Footnote: 

1 Some critics say that the insistence on intention to cause distress is a serious limitation for the new law. It may be hard to prove the images were shared to cause distress, rather than to make a profit or as some sort of joke. 

Author: 
Creative Commons license: 
Creative Commons Licence