“Revenge porn” – a new criminal offence?

“Revenge porn” – a new criminal offence?

Friday 7 November 2014 - Joey Lim

With the digitalisation of our modern world, individual privacy is becoming increasingly hard to maintain. Cases of privacy violation, particularly through social media, have skyrocketed in the past few years. Amidst the various types of cyberbullying that have come into existence, “revenge pornography” is a new phenomenon which has risen to prominence in recent years.

Put simply, revenge pornography is when people publicly post sexually explicit photographs of their former partners on the internet in order to get revenge after a break up. Posts often include the victim’s full name, address, social network aliases, and sometimes even their workplaces. Ultimately, it is a sickening way of getting back at a former partner by subjecting them to the worst kind of humiliation possible; by exposing their most private pictures not just to a group of friends but to the world at large.

5Despite being oddly specific, revenge pornography is becoming a frighteningly common problem in our society today. Our reliance on technology, online social networks and mobile communication has paved the way for these previously unthinkable offences. Nowadays, smartphones are omnipresent, with photo-sharing applications such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat dominating many of our daily social interactions.

Revenge pornography first grew prominent in the United States. It is now a criminal offence in 12 states. Here in the UK, the first known website dedicated to revenge porn postings was established in 2010. Shocking as it is, over 30 websites are now believed to exist in the UK alone.

Organisations such as the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, Women’s Aid Charity, The National Stalking Helpline, and the UK Safer Internet Centre have been actively attempting to raise both public and political awareness of revenge pornography. In 2012, Dr Holly Jacobs, a past victim of revenge porn, set up the largest global campaign group against the offence called ‘End Revenge Porn’. Along with Women’s Aid Charity, it aims to support victims of revenge porn and garner political attention for the issue.

1Recently, in October 2014, the House of Lords unanimously agreed to make revenge pornography a criminal offence under new UK legislation. If approved by MPs, it will be implemented as a change to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, and defined as “photographs or films which show people engaged in sexual activity or depicted in a sexual way or with their genitals exposed, where what is shown would not usually be seen in public”. According to Justice Minister Lord Faulks, anyone guilty of distributing “revenge porn” will be sentenced to up to two years in prison.

The internet has become a perilous jungle of information where privacy is virtually non-existent. Fortunately, the UK government seems prepared to adapt by embracing new legislation in order to protect citizens from the unseen dangers of the digital world. Like Baroness Thornton, many of us will regard this move as a “positive step”. As the nature of technology grows ever more invasive, constant vigilance must be exercised by the public and authorities alike.

About the author

Author: Joey Lim