Government may finally be seeking justice for ‘revenge porn’ victims

Government may finally be seeking justice for ‘revenge porn’ victims

By Victoria Anderson

It has been reported that the government is now considering the introduction of a new law to tackle the growing practice of sharing ‘revenge porn’ online. The term is used to describe the act of disseminating intimate or explicit photos or videos, usually after the break up of a relationship. Often these photos will be shared on sites where the victims friends and family can see them, as such ensuring that not only are the photos seen, but also seen by people the victim knows. In the event that the images are shared on other websites, they may be uploaded alongside the victim’s personal details, an act which causes further problems in relation to future employment and the individuals overall safety, since the information can be used by anyone to locate the victim.

The damage that the publication of such images on the Internet can have on an individual’s reputation, both socially and professionally can be significant, in addition to the psychological damage that can result. Some victims have developed conditions such as depression; whilst others have tragically gone on to commit suicide.

It cannot be denied that since the inception of the commercial Internet in the 1980’s the UK government has struggled to deal with the various legal challenges that have arisen as a result of the new technology. Revenge porn is no exception, as the practice currently falls under a number of different laws in the UK, including the Malicious Communications Act 1988, which provides the vague requirement of a communication, usually written, which intends to cause distress or anxiety and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which will normally require more than one incident. Whilst these provisions are technically able to deal with revenge porn, the success of an action is normally reliant on the police force dealing with the complaint, many of which are not experienced in dealing with Internet based offences. The uncertainty in the application of the law in these circumstances is particularly detrimental, since many victims of this crime are understandably embarrassed about the context of their complaint, and as such they are less likely to bring it to the attention of the authorities where they are not confident of a successful prosecution.

Thankfully, we may soon be provided with an updated and specifically targeted offence to deal with the problem of revenge porn. Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary has recently stated that: “the Government is very open to having a serious discussion about this with a view to taking appropriate action in the autumn if we can identify the best way of doing so.”

The idea of a best method for dealing with the issue has since been heavily debated, and recently the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve has met with Canadian authorities so as to allow the UK to assess whether or not to mirror the newly drafted Canadian bill. The bill seeks to criminalise the practice of revenge porn and goes as far as to attach a minimum five-year imprisonment sentence to the offence. To some this may seem appropriate in light of the damage that such an act can have on the victim’s safety, reputation and overall lifestyle; however others have expressed concerns that such a significant prison sentence may lead to the incarceration of young people who have simply made a grave error in judgment. Whilst it is difficult to have sympathy for this argument, it may be sensible for consideration to be given to more flexible sentencing approach in the UK.

With this in mind, regardless of the exact framework of the offence, it would certainly be a relief for many if the current grey area in the law no longer shielded this form of online abuse.

© Victoria Anderson 2014

@VFAnderson

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