Legislation ‘failing revenge porn victims’

Women are being let down by lacklustre laws which are failing to protect them from image-based sexual abuse such as revenge porn and fake porn offences, a report into the experiences of victims has suggested. Picture: PA Wire
Women are being let down by lacklustre laws which are failing to protect them from image-based sexual abuse such as revenge porn and fake porn offences, a report into the experiences of victims has suggested. Picture: PA Wire
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Women are being let down by lacklustre laws that are failing to protect them from image-based sexual abuse such as revenge porn and fake porn offences, a report into the experiences of victims has suggested.

Victims say an “unfamiliar, complex and shifting terrain” of changing laws and online regulation is leaving them in limbo, according to Shattered Lives and Myths: a Report on Image-Based Sexual Abuse.

Advances in technology have also outpaced existing legislation, prompting calls for a comprehensive shake-up of sex abuse laws that would mean image-based sexual abuse is treated as a sexual offence.

Academics from universities across the UK, who surveyed victims of image-based sexual abuse, as well as police, lawyers and support workers during a six-month period, say existing laws are insufficient to deal with crimes such as revenge porn, fake porn and upskirting.

Clare McGlynn, professor of law at Durham University and one of the report’s authors, said: “Due to the serious legal and policy failings identified in this report, we are effectively gambling with people’s lives.

“We found that image-based sexual abuse can shatter lives, often experienced as an entire ‘social rupture’ of their world.

“We must overhaul our out-of-date and piecemeal laws, including criminalising the paralysing and life-threatening impact of threats, and recognising the significant harms of fake porn.

“We need a comprehensive new law criminalising all forms of non-consensual taking or sharing of sexual images, including threats and altered images.

“We must do far more to support victims to reclaim control of their lives, with better resourced and specialist support to get images taken down, as well as free and accessible legal advice and advocacy.”

The report, which will be presented to MPs today, calls for “a comprehensive criminal law” covering all forms of non-consensual taking 
and/or sharing of private sexual images, including threats, while automatic anonymity is extended to all complainants of image-based sexual abuse.

It also recommends better education in schools, universities and among employers about image-based sexual abuse, and to introduce training and policies to respond to allegations or disclosures of such images.

The report found that, while most social media and internet companies have processes to remove harmful images, those are “often slow and complicated”.

One woman, who was blackmailed by an ex after being coerced into sharing explicit images of herself, said her “whole world just crumbled” the day she found the content had been shared online without her permission.

She said: “I couldn’t go out and I couldn’t go to school to pick up my children. I was completely withdrawn from the world. I attempted suicide at one time – it’s torture for your soul, it really is.”