Revenge Porn Should Be Made A Sexual Offence For One Hugely Important Reason, Say Experts

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Revenge porn — the act of sharing private sexual images or videos without a person's consent — has been a crime in the UK for the past few years. (England and Wales passed the law in 2015, with Scotland and Northern Ireland following suit in 2016.) However, its crime classification could be deterring victims from coming forward for fear of losing anonymity. Experts are now calling for revenge porn to be made a sexual offence, and they have the statistics to back up this demand.

Currently, revenge porn in England and Wales is classed as a communication crime, reports Metro. Why does this matter? Because victims of such crimes are not given lifelong anonymity, unlike victims of sexual offences. Worries about their names being put out there could be stopping victims from reporting the crime in the first place.

According to the BBC, police investigations into revenge porn have doubled in the past four years. But this promising statistic is met by a disappointing one. Despite the number of investigations rising, the number of charges is dropping.

Figures from 19 police forces in England and Wales show that the number of investigations has increased from 852 in 2015 to 2016 to 1,853 in 2018 to 2019. Yet revenge porn charges during the same time period decreased by 23 percent (from 207 to 158). Currently, the crimes carries a maximum sentence of two years in England and Wales, and five years in Scotland.

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In the past year, more than a third of victims chose not to go ahead and press charges, according to the BBC. When asked why, some individuals said it was down to the anonymity issue. Others blamed a lack of police support. A 2018 survey carried out by the North Yorkshire Police Commissioner confirmed how important anonymity was with 97 percent of respondents agreeing to the statement.

The Revenge Porn Helpline is calling for two updates to the current law. The first: to class it as a sexual crime, therefore guaranteeing lifetime anonymity for victims. The second: to criminalise threats to share images and add it to existing legislation.

The latter comes after the mother of Alice Ruggles — a 24-year-old woman murdered by an ex-boyfriend in 2016 — said her daughter may have spoken out against her former partner if his threats to share intimate images were classed as a crime, states the BBC.

In a statement, Sophie Mortimer from the Revenge Porn Helpline also called for police officers to receive more thorough training. "It's all very well changing the law and making these things illegal, but if the frontline services don't understand what the law actually means then you've only done half the job," she said.

In October 2018, the Women and Equalities Committee published a report urging the government to "introduce a new law on image-based sexual abuse which criminalises all non-consensual creation and distribution of intimate sexual images, including altered images, and threats to do so. This should be a sexual offence based on the victim’s lack of consent and not on perpetrator motivation, and include an automatic right to lifelong anonymity for the complainant as with other sexual offences."

The Ministry of Justice and Home Office explained to the BBC why the law falls under the category it does: "When we engaged with victims and campaigners in designing the new law they accepted that the motive for this crime is almost always malicious, rather than sexual, which is why the law considers it a non-sexual offence.

"We launched and continue to support the Revenge Porn Helpline, which helps victims to speak with the police and to social media companies about removing the content."

If you have been affected by revenge porn, contact the Revenge Porn Helpline on 03456 000 459 for support and advice. To report a case to the police, call 101.