Comment on Revenge Porn Survey Results

Omar Hameed and Laila Sedgwick
Co-Editors-in-Chief

As part of our spotlight on revenge porn, we conducted a survey of attitudes towards and knowledge about it. We had a huge influx of responses.

The definition of revenge porn

In our interview with the Revenge Porn Helpline Charity, Ms Rebecca Sharp clarified what the law recognises as ‘revenge porn’ and how it is not limited to the context of a past relationship. 58% of responses we received assumed that the crime was limited to those in a current or past relationship; actually its scope is much wider, including cases like celebrities’ leaked photos, extortion and hidden recordings. Some responders believed that only images/videos of actual sex constituted porn, as opposed to the wider category of “private sexual photographs or film”.

The legal definition in England and Wales, under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 Section 33, is as such:

(1) It is an offence for a person to disclose a private sexual photograph or film if the disclosure is made—

(a) without the consent of an individual who appears in the photograph or film, and

(b) with the intention of causing that individual distress.

Section (1)(b) is interesting: it contradicts the majority of survey responses, who focused on the distress of the victim rather than the intention of the perpetrator. A minority of responses did suggest that malicious intent was required. Threats to disclose private sexual photographs or film were only made illegal this year, in an amendment to the Communications Act 2003.

All but one participant agreed it should remain a crime, despite varying views on what exactly should be considered to be included under the heading of revenge porn.

Several responses considered the victim to be at fault in cases of illegal photo sharing, an attitude Ms Sharp said was becoming less common.

Computer generated images

Under the current legislation, it is legal to publish edited images of someone if Section 35 (5) applies:

The photograph or film is not private and sexual if—

(a) it does not consist of or include a photographed or filmed image that is itself private and sexual,

(b) it is only private or sexual by virtue of the alteration or combination mentioned in subsection (4), or

(c) it is only by virtue of the alteration or combination mentioned in subsection (4) that the person mentioned in section 33(1)(a) and (b) is shown as part of, or with, whatever makes the photograph or film private and sexual.

Therefore, if one were to edit somebody’s face onto a different body, no matter how similar the body is to theirs, and proceed to spread this edited image, this would be legal. Ms Sharp suggested that this distinction is unnecessary, and that it is a “a question of the law catching up with technology”. Given the most recent legislation was passed three years ago, one may be sceptical of any imminent change.

The responses we received on this topic were varied, with 74% believing computer generated images should be illegal and thus that the law is incorrect. The general view held was that the quality of the editing should be taken into account. Another common trend was that participants drew a distinction between images which were shared as a betrayal of trust and confidence and images created independently of any relationship for the purpose of personal gratification: perhaps this should be a separate crime with a sliding scale of punishment?

Stigma

All but two respondents agreed that victims of revenge porn are not responsible for their own fate; that the sharing of photographs or videos happened in trust and confidence and that it was implied such content was only for use in the confines of the specific situation intended by the subject, not for public distribution, whether to one person or a thousand. A small number of responses agreed that victims were not to blame, but qualified this by suggesting that in an age of social media, one should be careful to avoid putting oneself in compromising situations by taking photos in the first place.

This liberal attitude does not seem to be reflected in convictions or in how victims feel about reporting their experiences. On Monday we featured an account of a victim of revenge porn. The writer felt so hesitant to come forward should anyone reveal her identity that we very nearly pulled publication at her request an hour before it went up. She has not changed her decision not report the crime due to the lack of anonymity and how the attitudes of her family would lead to further stress. This shows how a) despite our responses, victims feel a social stigma attached to having intimate photos of them shared without consent and b) anonymity in court is required to increase not only convictions but the oddly low number of crimes reported.

From April 2015 to December 2015, 1160 revenge porn incidents were reported. 61% of these were not taken further due to a lack of evidence. Given that over 85% of revenge porn is shared through Facebook and Instagram alone, it is time for more pressure to be put on social media companies to not only remove photos and videos but actively refer them to relevant authorities for investigation.

Victims’ fear of social stigma and losing their anonymity is well-founded: Since 2015, only 11% of reported offences have resulted in someone being charged. This is too low. In under four hours of speaking to our peer group at UCL, looking for victims to interview, we came across four and were referred to many others. None of the four had approached the police, largely due to fear of social and parental reprisals. This ties into the general issue that students are hesitant to waive their anonymity in court after already having been exposed in the most vulnerable way to public scrutiny – especially when the prospect of a conviction is so low.

How to work on the issue at a legal and grassroots level?

Responses were split between increasing awareness of the possible consequences of sharing intimate photos with anyone and increasing the legal protection available. Perhaps the Scottish Parliament’s new Abusive Behavior and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, wherein the maximum sentence was increased from two to five years, should be extended south of the border (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-40473912). Under this wider law, a picture of someone in underwear would also constitute revenge porn, further shifting the focus to the breach of trust and confidence as opposed to the content.

One last observation

In over 90% of responses, answers assumed that all victims were female. Yet the latest figures show that 25% of victims are male: this is not an issue exclusive to women.

It was observed by several respondents and the Revenge Porn Helpline that the current nickname of ‘Revenge Porn’ is counter-productive and that it would help to reduce social stigma if the name were changed to ‘image based sexual abuse’ to better reflect the reality and remove the sensationalism that currently underpins it.

If you have any further views on Revenge Porn that have not been addressed, our survey is still open and can be filled in: here. For an example of the impact Revenge Porn can have, see our first-hand experience article. For the interview with Rebecca Sharp cited please see here.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Well-writtent blogpost Thank you sharing it.

    Like

  2. safetyforallwomenetizens says:

    Love the post! Please do read and share our recent post on revenge porn!

    Like

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