Image-based sexual abuse increases over lockdown: the inefficiency of current UK laws

The Revenge Porn helpline says the number of calls received more than doubled from the week of the 23rd of March, that coincides with the beginning of the first coronavirus lockdown. 2020 is already the busiest year for the helpline.

It does not seem that the lockdown caused the increase in image-based sexual abuse (I am avoiding the term revenge porn as it shifts the blame to the victim by associating the abusers intention with “revenge), but instead, people who were already engaging in abusive behaviours had to find new ways to perpetrate this abuse without coming in contact with their victims.

Image-based sexual abuse is a crime in the UK since 2015. However, in spite of its criminalisation, a study by domestic abuse association Refuge revealed one in every seven young women has suffered threats of having their intimate content shared online. Unfortunately, technology facilitated abuse is here to stay, be it “revenge porn”, deepfakes, harassment or unwanted dickpicks.

It is pressing current legislation is reviewed to properly protect the victims of these crimes. I had the pleasure of speaking with Marthe Goudsmit about this, who’s a DPhil researcher in the criminalisation of image-based sexual abuse and lecturer at Oxford University, and one of the main issues with the current laws on the topic (including the UK law) is the fact that they focus on the intention of the offender when publishing the images.

In the UK, the act of sharing intimate images without is only considered a crime if the offender had the intention to cause distress – if we’re unable to prove that intention (or if it simply wasn’t there) it is not possible to condemn the act.

There is a problem in the fact that the law does not recognise that the violation of privacy is enough to criminalise image-based sexual abuse. For Marthe, this is due to a certain degree of victim blaming: “the image exists so there is no real expectation of privacy”, which obviously isn’t true. There is a failure to recognise that consent for the image being taken is not consent to publish.

Published by Regina Nogueira

I have a knack for words and all things communication. Digital media is the iced tea to my hot day and beautifully crafted narratives are what make me tick. I currently work as a Social Community Manager for Bumble, where I lead the social media function of our Badoo comops team. I am also a freelance journalist for Luxembourg-based newspaper Contacto, writing about technology, society and human rights.

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