Julian Huppert MP writes…We need a new law to criminalise “revenge porn”

Houses of Parliament, LondonWe already have loads of laws on the statute book, and many of us resist calls repeatedly for more and more of them.

However, sometimes you do come across something that clearly should not be allowed, that causes significant harm to others, and yet is legal. Revenge porn is one of those.

This is the growing practice of vengeful ex’s sharing intimate images or videos of their previous partners with the clear aims of hurting, shaming and humiliating. What may have been a fun photo when times are good, which you’d rather was just deleted, becomes a cruel instrument of abuse.

Lives can be ruined, personal relationships destroyed and jobs lost. Some women have been forced to move homes and change their names and suicide is not unheard of.

But there is no legal sanction in the majority of these cases. The photos were originally consensual, so there’s no offence for taking them, or for possessing them. Harassment law requires repeated actions – but once photos have been put online, they are out there and can spread.

And getting sites to take these images down is hard – the more reputable ones will remove them on request – but even they normally require you to send a photo with a sign, so they know the image is actually of you. That’s an undignified thing to do, and just compounds the trauma of the process. And it won’t affect most of the sites where these can be found.

I think there is no alternative to a criminal sanction. It passes the Mill test, because of the huge harm caused to others. And in this year’s Queen’s Speech debate I highlighted this problem and called for action. I’m delighted others are listening with colleagues in the Lords also looking at it and together I hope we can get real change.

Many organisations are concerned about this, including Women’s Aid, National Stalking Helpline and UK Safer Internet Centre. Many countries are acting, including Israel, Japan and some US states.

As Liberal Democrats, we believe in empowering people to make their own choices. Giving consent to take a photo, or taking it yourself, is not the same as giving consent for intimate pictures to be broadcast to all and sundry.

* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15

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6 Comments

  • I agree that exposure like this is a terrible thing – but I’d like to know how we’re going to phrase this in a way that doesn’t stifle free speech. It sounds like something which would be hard to manage well.

  • I think this is an area where well drafted laws can protect without affecting free speech. For the site to put the pictures up they should be required to have a model release form as in the US.
    In the Czech Republic, if the actress is not known they film her holding a newspaper (to confirm the earliest possible date) and her ID card to confirm her age as definitely over 18 – this bit is cut from the final film or at least pixellated. For real consensual amateur porn you could do effectively the same thing with an “I consent to distribution” sign.

  • Good luck & well done. The law needs to go further though, recently in Aberdeen a couple were talking about their sex life over email, accidentally emailed it to their work mates, some of whom decided to forward what was a personal conversation sent out by mistake to people in other companies.

    As far as I know, nobody was ever sacked over this.

    Aberdeen City Council even got involved in gloating in the poor couple’s humiliation by referencing it on their official twitter account. A manager form ACC eventually deleted the tweet but their communications manager seemed to think it’s deletion was a shame and that the council taking part in this was OK. Read for yourself. http://spsdg.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/a-takeaway-from-the-sandwichvan/

    For some reason, people don’t behave on the Internet like they do in other areas of life. People need to be protected from Internet bullying just like they do in all other areas of life.

  • @ Andrew Ducker “I agree that exposure like this is a terrible thing – but I’d like to know how we’re going to phrase this in a way that doesn’t stifle free speech. It sounds like something which would be hard to manage well.”

    Under the data protection act, people can’t share something classed as personal sensitive information without the parties explicit consent each time they share it.

    Something like that would be good. With the person who shared the images having to prove they had the other parties explicit consent to do so which if they can’t will attract an appropriate sentence. Revenge porn is an outrageous attack on another person.

  • The trouble is that the sites could be based outside the UK, but anyone running a porn site should be required to be able to prove that anyone appearing on it is over 18 and consents to being on there.

  • This law would be something I agree with provided it applies equally to both men and women. The article so far suggests that this may not be the case

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