‘Revenge pornography’ could lead to 14 years in jail, say new guidelines
Crown Prosecution Service publishes new guidelines setting out how offenders can be taken to court for posting intimate pictures to get back at a former partner
Posting “revenge pornography” online could lead to a jail term of up to 14 years after prosecutors issued tough new guidelines in a bid to secure more convictions.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) signalled a significant change of tactics to address growing outrage about what it described as a “nasty and invasive crime”.
There has been mounting pressure for a new law to combat “revenge porn”, which involves publishing intimate photographs or video, some of which may include graphic sexual activity, as retaliation against a former partner.
Many offenders publish the images publicly on social media web sites such as Facebook or Twitter to humiliate partners after an acrimonious split.
MPs including Maria Miller, the former culture secretary, have been pressing for the activity to be made a specific criminal offence but the CPS has now insisted the practice “can and will” be tackled using existing legislation.
Instead, the guidance emphasised sexual offences laws and child protection legislation which carry maximum sentences of between 10 and 14 years.
A CPS spokesman said: “No one should have to suffer the hurt and humiliation of ‘revenge pornography’ – a nasty and invasive crime that appears, anecdotally at least, to have increased as social media use has gone up.
“The CPS prosecutes these cases using a range of current laws, and we have now clarified our legal guidance to set out clearly how these cases should be brought to court.
“The public, and indeed those intent on attacking former partners in this way, can now see clearly that this is a crime that can and will be prosecuted.”
It is thought the new guidelines will lead to growing numbers of prosecutions by giving lawyers greater confidence to tackle the issue.
Earlier this year David Cameron, the Prime Minister, backed proposals to make revenge porn a specific crime, acknowledging that it had a “clearly criminal intent”.
Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, said: “This is a welcome development from the CPS, but it may well be that a change to the law is also needed and this is something we are considering carefully.”
Miss Miller, who has campaigned for a new law on revenge porn, said: “It is important that the CPS, in issuing this guidance is acknowledging that there is at least a lack of clarity in the law.”
However, she said that the new guidance did not go far enough and called for a new “bespoke law” that will ensure that people who post revenge pornography on the internet face justice.
“There needs to be a change in the law. There are clear precedents for putting in place a bespoke law which deals specifically with revenge pornography,” she added.
The CPS spokesman said the new guidelines set out how any explicit images of under 18s could be dealt with under the Protection of Children Act 1978.
The legislation sets a 10 year maximum sentence for “very serious cases”.
The Protection of Children Act also sets out sentences of three years and above if offenders have been “actively involved” in the production of an indecent image, “commissioned or encouraged” the creation of the images or where it involved a “breach of trust”. These circumstances could clearly be applied to revenge porn.
If intimate images are sent in a bid to coerce someone into sexual activity the sender could be prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years, the CPS said.
Other pieces of legislation which could be used to launch a prosecution include the anti-harassment laws and rules governing malicious communications, all of which carry up to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of up to £5,000.
Polly Neate, chief executive of the pressure group Women’s Aid, said: “We welcome this new guidance which clarifies which legislation is available in so called ’revenge porn’ cases.
“There has been too much confusion and too little action to protect women from vicious partners who blackmail and humiliate using intimate images.
“We now need to ensure that the law expands to cover all forms of coercive and controlling behaviour in relationships, to ensure that the patterns of abuse which lie behind this type of abuse can be addressed.”
Liz McKean , co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, also welcomed the development and said it would “send a clear message to the public that this activity can constitute a criminal offence”.
Last week it emerged that out of eight police forces which held data on revenge porn, there were 149 cases over the last two and a half years. The true picture over all 43 forces will be far higher.
One force disclosed it had dealt with a case involving an 11-year-old. The vast majority of victims were female but only six incidents resulted in any police caution or charge.