Has new legislation done enough to tackle revenge porn?

One of the more distressing trends to emerge over lockdown has been a significant rise in instances of “revenge porn.” According to figures published by The Revenge Porn Helpline, 2020 saw an 87% rise in the number of people they supported compared to the previous year and they estimate that 25% of women, and 30% of men, have shared an intimate image or believe someone has one of them.

Clearly this is both a widespread and pressing issue.

With our digital age encouraging us all to capture and share almost every facet of our daily lives and successive lockdowns shifting our daily routines only further online, it is also an issue that is likely to increase in prevalence rather than fall away.

So what can be done?

The Domestic Abuse Bill and the Online Safety Bill

Thankfully, as the prevalence of these crimes has grown, so too has awareness of them. In 2015, as part of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, “revenge porn” was made a criminal offence, punishable with a two year prison sentence.

This legislative progress continued earlier this year with the introduction of the landmark Domestic Abuse Bill. Alongside widening the definition of abuse to include coercive and controlling behaviour, the bill also criminalised threats to share “revenge porn”, with perpetrators facing up to two years in prison. Unlike previous legislation, this will also apply after the parties no longer live together, with the government recognising that abuse is not limited to those who live in the same home.  

If the Domestic Abuse Bill focused on prosecuting the perpetrators, the developments of the Online Safety Bill aimed to ensure the images themselves could be removed. Under the government’s new duty of care for social media companies, online platforms will have a responsibility to police the content that appears on their sites. When they find instances of harmful or abusive content, they will have to be promptly removed – if they do not do so, they could face large fines from the regulator Ofcom.

Again, this marks a positive step forward in tackling the growing prevalence of revenge porn – if social media sites become responsible for all content they host, having abusive images removed should become easier.

This, however, is not the whole story.

On a practical level, having abusive images removed from the internet is no easy task – especially when they have been posted with malicious intent. The government’s Online Safety Bill is therefore a welcome step in policing the most popular sites – but its impact will be far less potent on those who are not so firmly in the limelight.

Currently, there are two main ways to have content removed from the web – a Google Removal form or by contacting the owner of the domain on which the media appears. Both have their problems – not only can the processes be complex, the emotional toll they exact on victims cannot be understated.

“We are seeing a worrying trend of teenagers having their private images or videos uploaded to porn sites as revenge or a prank. Sometimes these images and videos are produced without the victim’s knowledge or consent. Deeply distressed parents of the victims contact us after failing with direct approaches to these sites. However, there are legal avenues to force these sites to remove such content. However, taking legal advice immediately to stem the damage is critical” says Rory Lynch, a Senior Associate in our Reputation & Privacy team

Efforts to clamp down on both the posting and the spread of “revenge porn” should be welcomed but that does not mean they are a silver bullet. Unfortunately, this trend is not likely to go away any time soon – and that means further measures must be taken.

If you would like to know more about the issues covered in this article, Vardags offers a free consultation to qualifying individuals.

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