The Response to Revenge Porn Should Be Level Headed, Not a Knee Jerk Reaction

Image3A debate has erupted around revenge pornography and whether new legislation is required to tackle the problem of jilted lovers posting sexually explicit photographs online. Whilst there is no doubt that these occurrences are deeply damaging and upsetting for the individuals involved, the Government must ensure that any new laws created to police what is posted on the internet is done so with a clear head and not in the heat of the moment.

Yesterday Chris Grayling MP, the Justice Secretary, said yesterday that the Government is very open to a discussion about creating new legislation specifically for revenge porn offences, whilst Julian Huppert MP called for “criminal sanction [to be] available when people share indecent images in the knowledge that consent would not have been given”. Today, two Liberal Democrat members of the House of Lords has tabled an amendment to the Criminal justice and Courts Bill with the intention of making ‘revenge porn’ a criminal offence.

Firstly this debate must acknowledge that there is already legislation in place, including the Malicious Communications Act, Sexual Offences Act or the Harassment Act, which could be used to prosecute perpetrators in these sorts of cases. Therefore it would perhaps be more productive for the Ministry of Justice and the Crown Prosecution Service to, at least as a starting point, produce guidance on what legislation is available, how it applies to these cases and, probably most importantly, that when complaints are made they should be taken seriously.

A subsequent issue which must be considered is that for many cases that will be brought to the police’s attention judging what is and isn’t acceptable is a very difficult decision. This is down to the fact that deciding where the line should be drawn as to what constitutes ‘porn’ in these cases, and indeed whether it has been shared for the purposes of ‘revenge’, is not a simple judgement call to make. Asking the police to make that judgement call could well be a recipe for disaster.

The Government also has to be realistic about what powers it has to have the images removed from websites, most of which are not hosted in the United Kingdom. It is likely that the most that could be done is to issue a removal request for the content to be removed, but enforcing that request would be very difficult.

There is also the added difficulty that person who posts the images may not be the person who created or features in them. Cases of phones being lost or laptops being stolen and images subsequently being posted online would again be a difficult police. Perhaps then, as an addition to the guidance that the MOJ and CPS should issue to police, the Department for Education should get involved in a campaign to educate young people about the dangers of creating the images in the first place. We no longer live in a Polaroid world, so the potential for explicit images to be posted to the internet, where once it is there is incredibly difficult if not impossible to remove, is very possible.

This is not a simple issue that new legislation would solve. There are complexities, as briefly outlined here, that require much consideration before any new steps are taken to address the problem. We therefore support Chris Grayling’s call for an “open discussion”; however we hope that this will be of a clear and level headed nature, rather than a knee-jerk reaction.

Posted by on Jul 2, 2014 in Home | 5 Comments