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Courts given first guidance on ‘revenge porn’ sentences

The offence of disclosing private sexual images without consent was introduced in 2015.

Revenge pornography offenders who repeatedly re-post explicit material after it has been taken offline will face the toughest punishments under new sentencing guidelines.

Perpetrators who set up fake social media profiles or websites to amplify the embarrassment of their targets can also expect to receive the harshest penalties available.

For the first time, courts are being provided with instructions on dealing with men and women who humiliate ex-lovers, partners, spouses and others by uploading private sexual images and videos.

The offence of disclosing private sexual images without consent was introduced in 2015 and carries a maximum sentence of two years.

In 2016/17, there were 465 prosecutions over revenge porn allegations in England and Wales.

On Thursday, the Sentencing Council will publish new definitive guidelines for judges and magistrates to follow when sentencing those found guilty of a range of “intimidatory” offences.

The section on disclosing private sexual images lists factors that would indicate higher culpability, therefore raising the possibility of a punishment at the higher end of the scale.

More serious cases could include those where there is evidence of conduct intended to maximise distress or humiliation, or “significant planning” such as setting up fake social media profiles to post the images, and inviting comment and contact which could result in abuse and sexualised contact from strangers.

Our guidelines recognise and reflect the very intimate, personal and intrusive nature of these offences, which can have devastating, often long-term impacts on victims and their families Sentencing Council member Judge Rosa Dean

The guideline also makes clear that revenge porn perpetrators should be dealt with more severely if they make “repeated efforts to keep images available for viewing”.

This factor was added as a result of feedback in a consultation held last year to reflect the trend from some offenders to re-post images online multiple times after websites take them down.

Harassment, stalking, controlling and coercive behaviour and threats to kill are also covered by the new guidance.

The crime of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship was introduced in December 2015 to crack down on repeated abuse in domestic settings.

It can apply to a range of conduct such as controlling victims through social media, spying on them online, stopping them from socialising or refusing them access to money. Offenders can face up to five years in jail.

Following the consultation, controlling or coercive behaviour that results in debt or homelessness has been listed as a possible “aggravating” factor after this was highlighted as an effect of these crimes when an offender controls the victim’s access to their money.

The guideline comprises entirely new guidance on stalking and significantly expanded guidance for harassment offences.

It highlights the main factors that should be taken into account in assessing the seriousness of an offence, such as the level of planning and sophistication, how persistent it was and the level of distress and psychological harm caused to the victim.

The guidelines are not intended to alter sentencing practice in the types or levels of penalty given, but they reflect recent legislative changes that doubled the maximum sentences for stalking and harassment from five years to 10 and from seven to 14 years if the offence was racially or religiously aggravated.

Sentencing Council member Judge Rosa Dean said: “Our guidelines recognise and reflect the very intimate, personal and intrusive nature of these offences, which can have devastating, often long-term impacts on victims and their families.

“They will provide courts with comprehensive guidance that will help ensure sentences reflect the seriousness of these offences.”

The guideline will be used in courts in England and Wales from October 1.

Justice minister Rory Stewart said: “These crimes can have a devastating and deeply traumatising effect on victims.

“These new guidelines will ensure that our courts recognise the serious harm caused to victims, and that perpetrators are properly punished.”

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