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Call to extend revenge porn laws

Published 23/04/2015

Technology tycoons will descend on Belfast this week
Technology tycoons will descend on Belfast this week

New revenge porn laws should be extended to cover the cruel craze of "upskirting", experts have said.

Technology companies should also shoulder greater responsibility in clamping down on those who spread revenge porn, described as sexually or explicitly images shared without the consent of the victim.

The new law was enacted on April 13, after months of campaigning from revenge porn victims, making the cruel practice illegal and offering sentences of up to two years in jail for perpetrators.

But at the UK's first seminar on revenge porn today, held in Westminster in central London, victims, activists and legal experts said the legislation needed to be extended to cover other forms of sexual offending.

And campaigners have warned a failure to tackle the issue could lead to revenge porn becoming as prevalent in society as other forms of abuse against women.

Clare McGlynn, professor in law at Durham University said: "This is a very welcome law, but it is limited because it just responded to an ad-hoc example of a broader phenomenon of non-consensual pornography.

"It doesn't cover generally what's called 'upskirting', taking pictures up women's skirts in public places and then distributing them without their consent. The current law does not cover that and it is problematic."

Some cases of upskirting have been brought before the courts but only when they fall under other existing laws, such as voyeurism.

Professor McGlynn said: "It does not include public places like the beach or on the tube, or going about your daily business in public.

"This is an old problem of taking images and harassing women. But technology is giving us new ways to perpetuate old harms.

"This is a real problem for victims because it is violating their right to privacy."

Ann Olivarius, senior partner at London-based law firm McAllister Olivarius which represents victims of revenge porn, said the new law was a "wonderful first step" but required tightening, particularly to remove the need to prove the "intent" to cause harm.

She said: "Social media platforms well understand the problem, but it is one they don't want to tackle.

"In the way they (media platforms) have responsibilities over child pornography, that should extend to revenge pornography."

She added: "Revenge porn has all the characteristics of becoming a powerful form of violence towards women. It already seems to be in epidemic proportions.

"We have the technology to stop it. We just need the will."

According to information from eight police forces in England and Wales that kept data on this issue, there were 149 allegations of revenge porn made between January 1 2012 and July 1 2014. The vast majority of victims were women.

Six incidents resulted in police action, according to the only data on the number of incidents, obtained by the Press Association.

Professor McGlynn added: "There has been a lot of publicity about revenge porn and a lot of campaigning, so I am really hoping people will know this law exists and will act as a deterrent, and give victims the courage to come forward to police."

Sarah Green, for the End Violence Against Women coalition, said new offences such as trolling have taken time for the criminal justice system to recognise.

She said: "We need to look ahead from today at what needs to change - giving the police and the courts the power to properly investigate this new offence and get it prosecuted, and to work in wider society - especially in schools - to talk about how we treat each other."

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