DCSIMG

‘Revenge porn sites must end anonymity’

The online trend involves people posting sexually explicit pictures and videos of their former partners online once they have split up. Picture: TSPL

The online trend involves people posting sexually explicit pictures and videos of their former partners online once they have split up. Picture: TSPL

  • by ANDREW WHITAKER
 

SOCIAL media sites should establish the identity of people opening accounts to prevent so-called “revenge porn”, a House of Lords committee has said as it called for clarity on when prosecutions could be made on those who participate in it.

The online trend involves people posting sexually explicit pictures and videos of their former partners on websites and social networks.

A call to create a new criminal offence of “revenge porn” was rejected by the House of Lords communications committee because it was covered by existing obscenity and harassment laws.

However, the Scottish Government last night stated there “may be advantages” to having a specific offence to target those who post explicit images of ex-partners online to humiliate them.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said ministers and prosecutors would give “careful consideration” to using devolved powers in justice matters to look at changing the law.

Holyrood’s justice committee convenor, Christine Grahame, said creating a specific law should be looked at as people should be made to think about the “consequences” of posting humiliating images online.

The Lords communications committee, in a review of the laws on social media crime, has called on the Director of Public Prosecutions to clarify when the practice becomes a criminal offence south of the Border.

They said the move was needed to give clearer guidance for police and prosecutors to help them secure convictions, as perpetrators should not be allowed to post in complete anonymity.

“There is little point in criminalising certain behaviour and at the same time legitimately making that same behaviour impossible to detect,” a report from the peers stated.

The inquiry report said: “We would welcome clarification as to the circumstances in which an indecent communication could and should be subject to prosecution under...the Communications Act 2003 or...the Malicious Communications Act 1988.”

The peers said current laws, most of which pre-dated social media, were “generally

appropriate”.

The Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “There are currently a number of existing criminal offences which can be used to prosecute people posting or distributing revenge pornography, including blackmail, breach of the peace, threatening or abusive behaviour, stalking and improper use of a public electronic communications network.

“However, we always keep criminal law under review. Despite the House of Lords’ decision we believe there may be advantages to the creation of a specific criminal offence.”

Ms Grahame, an SNP MSP, suggested revenge porn should be policed in a similar way to “speed traps” to deter people.

She said: “There is a real need to look at this because we may sometimes be tempted to think that because something is on social media that it’s untouchable.

“There might be a need to look at having something that’s similar to or the equivalent of speed traps on the internet as people should realise their are consequences to posting abusive images like this online.”

However, Scottish Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson, a former senior police officer, said a change in the law could make prosecuting offenders more “complex”.

He said: “I’d need to be persuaded that the current legislation doesn’t deal with it.

“The problem is very often that governments feel the need to legislate and the whole thing becomes so complex. You can end up muddying the waters.”

ANALYSIS

Tanya Rhodes: A modern crime requiring a modern legal approach

SINCE we started campaigning about revenge porn last year, the scale of the problem and the challenges surrounding it have become ever more apparent.

When we first approached partners in the justice system, it was clear that this was an issue with serious issues concerning technology and attitude, with little precedent to inform procedure within the police and Crown Office.

When we launched our Stop Revenge Porn Scotland campaign site, one of the most common questions we were faced with from women was “how can I have this image taken down?” The speed at which images are shared make it difficult to ascertain exactly where an image has been posted, or reposted.

We need to make the sharing of images without consent socially unacceptable. We would support a move to make perpetrators of “revenge porn” more easily traceable, so that victims feel encouraged to seek justice, and would-be perpetrators think twice about posting intimate images online without permission.

The Lords committee has also raised the point that while the identity of users posting should be confirmed, the option of posting anonymously should still be available, as long the site operator can establish the identity of the poster.

We would support this approach in order, for example, that women seeking advice online can do so with minimal risk of being traced or identified by their abusers.

What is clear is that it is a growing problem. Revenge porn bears all the hallmarks of domestic abuse – control, power, humiliation and coercion – but represents the flipside to the usually “private” nature of this abuse.

Abusers are using modern communications technologies with a malicious will to ruin and break a woman’s confidence, career, friendships and reputation, all in the most public way possible. It is a modern crime, requiring modern legal tools – and this must require the ability to trace individuals and not allow them to hide under a cloak of online anonymity. The justice system must be able to respond in an agile manner, both to deal with the problem legally, and send out a message that these violations are unacceptable.

• Tanya Rhodes is a media worker with Scottish Women’s Aid

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Call for internet revenge porn legislation

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