Lib Dems seek to amend revenge porn law to give anonymity to victims

One of the real successes of the coalition years was an initiative by Liberal Democrats to make revenge porn a criminal offence. It’s just over two years since I first wrote about it and the harm it can do to people. At that point, there was little the police could do:

It’s time for the law to catch up with this most modern form of abuse. It takes seconds for a controlling man to inflict a lifetime of hell on a woman. That can’t be right.

Just 5 months later, the law was changed, thanks in no small part to the bravery of women like Hannah Thompson who were willing to go public.

However, we still have a society where the female victims of such crime are blamed much more than the male perpetrators. And it is almost always that way round. So, the Liberal Democrats have taken the next step and tabled amendments giving victims the right to anonymity and to seek compensation.

From the Guardian:

They (Liberal Democrats) say the amendment on anonymity would bring the new law on revenge porn – disclosing sexual images of an individual without their permission and with intent to cause harm –in line with laws on sexual offences, where victims do not have to reveal their identity. The lack of anonymity may act as a disincentive for victims, they say, as media coverage in court cases can lead to embarrassment or humiliation.

The second amendment would make up for the fact that reports of revenge porn generally do not lead to criminal charges and few court cases lead to custodial sentences. The policy and crime bill is at the report stage with a debate and vote on the bill in its final form provisionally scheduled for 13 June.

“The Liberal Democrats campaigned hard to criminalise revenge porn in the last parliament,” said Alistair Carmichael, the party’s home affairs spokesperson. “A year on, it is clear that more must be done to empower victims. That is why we are proposing further measures to offer greater protection and redress to encourage more victims to come forward. I hope that the government will get behind these amendments and stand with the thousands that suffer in silence every year.”

It is worrying that these serious offences often seem to be being dealt with by using cautions. I’m not sure that sends quite the right message.

Alistair Carmichael’s amendments will be debated on 13th June. He has set up an online petition here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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25 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Jun '16 - 5:51pm

    Anonymity is fine, but we need to make sure proper support is given to suspects if they are found not guilty.

  • Rightsaidfredfan 1st Jun '16 - 6:08pm

    I agree with this article and thank the party for their efforts in bringing an important change in the law. Making the victims anonymous would be very welcome too. Mind you, those accused of sex crimes should also remain anonymous unless proven guilty.

  • Ryan McAlister 1st Jun '16 - 6:12pm

    Presumably cautions are used because there is little prospect of conviction. Remember that the offence requires an INTENT to cause distress. The act further goes on to say intent is not proved just because distress was the probable and natural outcome.

    It’s a very high bar.

  • I don’t agree that suspects should have anonymity. In cases like Stuart Hall, when he was charged, other victims came forward.

  • Caron Lindsay 1st Jun ’16 – 6:16pm……………I don’t agree that suspects should have anonymity. In cases like Stuart Hall, when he was charged, other victims came forward…….

    In many other cases, not just ‘celebrities’ like William Roache, “Innocent until proven guilty”, enshrined in law, has a hollow ring….

    If an accuser is allowed anonymity then so should the accused..anything less is a travesty of justice….Such ‘mud’ sticks

  • Rightsaidfredfan 1st Jun '16 - 9:30pm

    Being falsely accused of sex crimes could utterly ruin someone’s life. If they are convicted by all means publish it and others can come forward then.

  • Floating voter 1st Jun '16 - 9:56pm

    “A very high bar”

    And rightly so. Cautions will often be appropriate where a person admits guilt and has committed a one-off offence or is perhaps a teenager (boy or girl)

  • Caron

    “In cases like Stuart Hall, when he was charged, other victims came forward.”

    And other victims would still come forward after the first conviction.

    If the prosecution relies on the “look lots of people have made the accusation after reading it in the press” they are tak no a punt and relying on large numbers to skew the probabilities. All a large case actually does is add complexity, cost and time to a case.

    Better have specific cases where there is as little public information polluting the investigation.

  • expats

    “If an accuser is allowed anonymity then so should the accused..anything less is a travesty of justice….Such ‘mud’ sticks”

    I agree, what has surprised me is the number of people who were horrified at the way the press treated Chris Jeffries but are fine with police and CPS basically briefing against people in public. A very nasty tactic copied from US prosecutions.

  • “female victims of such crime are blamed much more than the male perpetrators”

    There are certainly a few more lines that could be added to a game of LDV Bingo. If there are just “victims of Crime” is that not sufficient? Does it have to be “female victims” to warrant action?

    Why obsess about attaching gender to everything? It seems to bring some very skewed perspectives, and again creates a narrative that his not helpful on a number of levels.

    Law and Policy making should be done on the basis of the facts; a narrative will drive a bias that does nothing to produce quality law or policy.

  • Jayne Mansfield 2nd Jun '16 - 3:01pm

    It makes no sense at all to have a law against posting sexual images on public media and then refusing the victim anonymity, thereby adding to the victim’s embarrassment. If the victim’s name becomes public knowledge, there is the likelihood that any material that was intended to be private will be searched out by the sort of individuals who think this sort of behaviour is clever and acceptable, whatever their gender.

    @ Psi,
    Anonymity would, I believe encourage victims of other perpetrators to come forward.

  • Jayne Mansfield

    “Anonymity would, I believe encourage victims of other perpetrators to come forward.”

    Not sure I have fully understood which comment this was responding too.

    I’m happy with anonymity, just think it should be for all concerned. Those opposed (to the accused receiving it) are remarkably shy, when those working in the field point out the need for it.

  • Jayne Mansfield 2nd Jun '16 - 6:06pm

    Maybe I misread your post to Caron Psi.

    In the case of Stuart Hall, other victims came forward to accuse him I seem to remember, same with the Jimmy Saville enquiry.

    In the case of posting sexual images, once the victim of this sort of sexual abuse has been named, (presumably the pictures are on social media), and the name of the victim becomes public knowledge, they are at risk of further abuse from the sort of people who would search the images out and widen the victim’s public embarrassment.

  • It is obvious from cases over the years that ‘victim’ doesn’t automatically and always mean the person who is making the accusations…

    I’m fine with the accuser having anonymity for the duration of a case; however, if there is no successful prosecution, they lose that anonymity and the victim of their ire gets to seek compensation. This would help prevent malicious accusations. However, I suggest that to avoid everything getting dragged out and everything being revisited in further court sessions, the setting of compensation should be a standard part of these cases.

  • Jayne Mansfield 2nd Jun '16 - 8:25pm

    @ Psi,
    It is clearly past my bedtime!

    People in what field are in favour of the accused being afforded anonymity?

    I can see the point in someone who has had their right to privacy abused, being afforded anonymity to prevent further abuse, but why afford anonymity to the accused?

    Is anonymity offered when a person stands accused of a different type of serious offence before conviction? If not, why should someone who is accused of this serious offence be treated any differently?

  • This highlights an issue I was raising at the time – namely that a law change although needed was a bit of a cosmetic measure if it wasn’t backed up by willingness to bring action. Certainly pre this legislation action was not being taken in cases where the victim was under 16 (ie there was clearly an offence – and one substantially easier to prove – under child pornography legislation).

    Does the absence of anonymity provisions suggest this legislation was rather rushed though

  • Jayne Mansfield

    “Is anonymity offered when a person stands accused of a different type of serious offence before conviction? If not, why should someone who is accused of this serious offence be treated any differently?”

    If you were going to make that argument for applying the same to victims it would be consistent. But we have accepted the impact of these crimes is sufficient to require anonymity for victims then we have recognized that we are dealing with a different situation.

  • Jayne Mansfield 3rd Jun '16 - 5:16am

    @ Psi,
    I have already given the reason why I think anonymity should be given to the victims of this type of sexual abuse.

    There are already restrictions on what the media can report about a defendant in a case.

    To give anonymity to a defendant in these sorts of sexual abuse cases, also seems to presume that the victim is lying ( more so than in other types of cases). I think that the evidence is clear, victims need to have considerable courage to make a complaint and pursue it, and many feel that they would not be able to withstand the rigours of a trial, Any such presumption that that might deter them is, I would argue, more likely to make victims less likely to come forward.

    The defendant already has the presumption of innocence until found guilty.

  • Jayne Mansfield

    “I have already given the reason why I think anonymity should be given to the victims of this type of sexual abuse.”

    Did I say you hadn’t? And as I said I’m in favour of anonymity in sexual cases. I may have been assuming that you were in favour of it applying in other sexual cases, if I was in correct on that front apologies.

    “To give anonymity to a defendant in these sorts of sexual abuse cases, also seems to presume that the victim is lying”

    How so? I only see the presumption of innocence in cases where often people don’t actually receive that protection in most aspects of their life.

    “The defendant already has the presumption of innocence until found guilty.”

    Only in the criminal law, not in the rest of life. If we are saying that only the situation that matters is the criminal procedure then there is no issue for the accuser? I don’t think that is a sensible position, people’s lives are deeply impacted beyond the criminal justice system.

  • Jayne Mansfield

    “There are already restrictions on what the media can report about a defendant in a case.”

    So there are no “believe the ‘victim'” demands, no #ibelieve campaigns even when accused are shown to have lied in court, and conspired to coordinate stories?

    I do understand the desire to believe, when people have told me they have been raped I have believed without really questioning. A human reaction, but given the potential impact on an accused person something we have to guard against.

  • Jayne Mansfield 3rd Jun '16 - 3:06pm

    @ Psi,
    Lets start with what we are in agreement with, i.e. that the complainants in of this form of sexual abuse should obtain anonymity to protect them from further abuse should their name enter the public domain.

    Where we disagree, ( I think), is that you feel that the accused should also be offered anonymity unless found guilty.

    I object to this because of the reasons I have already given, perhaps I have not been clear.

    1. To offer anonymity to a defendant in a sexual abuse case and not in other serious offences ( not rape or other sexual offences) but cases of comparative severity, suggests to me that there is a higher probability of the claimant in a sexual harm case, being someone who has brought the case for reasons other than the pursuit of justice for a wrong done. You disagree. Fair enough.

    2. I think that when one is deciding whether to offer anonymity to a defendant, one should make that decision based on equality between the defendant in this sort of case with the defendant in different sorts of case, not equality with the claimant.

    I read the links, and I have found no reason to change my view. One female QC arguing one particular case against another. ( The Vera Baird QC link is no longer available. The less said about the contemptuous, anonymous barrister in the second link, the better.

    Anonymity was offered to defendants in rape cases in the 1970s. Anonymity for the defendants in rape cases was repealed in the 1980’s following a 1984 the Criminal Law Revision Committee Review which dealt with the arguments about whether it was fair not to offer protection to the defendant when it has been offered to the complainant. I agree with its conclusions.

    I am unsure what , despite the passage of time, has changed. New technology means that women can be victimised in new ways. The words humiliate etc. do not do justice to the dreadful harm done.

    The coalition Government , ( yes that Government), was prepared to extend anonymity to the defendants in rape cases but dropped the idea because there was not enough reliable evidence to justify such a change. To then, offer anonymity to those who are defendants in so called ‘Porn Revenge’., would seem to me to be minimising the loss of control and sexual violation that the victims of this crime suffer.

  • * the above shoudl have read:

    no #ibelieve campaigns even when accusers are shown to have lied in court, and conspired to coordinate stories?

  • Jayne Mansfield

    “Lets start with what we are in agreement with, i.e. that the complainants in of this form of sexual abuse should obtain anonymity to protect them from further abuse should their name enter the public domain.”

    Well my position is further than that (and you appear to agree) that all complainants in sexual cases should receive anonymity. This makes sense as these cases are high risk for significant harm to the complaint, given how we think about these crimes.

    “Where we disagree, (I think), is that you feel that the accused should also be offered
    anonymity unless found guilty.”

    Yes in most circumstances (there may be specific exceptions). But again I think that this should apply across all sexual offences.

    “1. To offer anonymity to a defendant in a sexual abuse case and not in other serious offences (not rape or other sexual offences) but cases of comparative severity, suggests to me that there is a higher probability of the claimant in a sexual harm case, being someone who has brought the case for reasons other than the pursuit of justice for a wrong done.”

    I am arguing that a principle should be applied (anonymity for all involved). It should be to laws but as this is the one being amended, start there. That does not mean that you accept the problems with other sexual offense laws, they also need to be fixed but you have to fix things as they come up.

    As to the comparison with other crimes, I don’t see how you come to your conclusion. Firstly if you want to compare across crimes I would mention that Teachers have special protection regarding anonymity, so this already exists.

    The issue of suggested increased probability of malicious claims doesn’t follow from the argument for this. Firstly there are not just incorrect accusations in these cases but also mistaken identification. More importantly though is that the purpose of this is to reduce the risk of the criminal justice system causing avoidable significant harm to the innocent. Risk had two measures that need to be considered here, Probability (someone innocent being investigated) but the second point being the Impact. Those who it is known to have been under suspicion of sexual crimes have suffered significantly more than those accused of other crimes, if you consider that there is a stigma of being a victim, how much worse is it to be an innocent person accused.

  • My full response had to be split in to three posts due to the detail but apparently I can’t post it like that so I don’t really think it is possible to discuss this topic to the level of detail required to avoid misrepresenting others people’s positions and getting the point across, so I’ll leave it.

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