LibLink: Julian Huppert – We can’t tackle revenge porn using existing laws

Julian Huppert, Lib Dem PPC for CambridgeLib Dem MP for Cambridge Julian Huppert has wirtten an article at Politics.co.uk explaining why he’s supportive of a new law to make revenge porn illegal. First, he sets out why the it’s a problem that needs tackling:

These images were typically taken with consent, or by the victim themselves – but there was no consent for them to be broadcast to everyone, but rather an expectation that they would be kept secret. This causes immense harm to the victims – the shame and humiliation of having their naked or sexually explicit pictures shown to the world stays with them for a long time. People lose their self-confidence, their jobs, and in some cases have committed suicide as a result.

Julian then examines in turn the existing legal routes that have been suggested as ways of tackling it – Protection from Harassment Act 1997, Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, Malicious Communications Act 1988, Sexual Offences Act 2003, Data Protection Act, privacy injunction – before concluding that none are fit for purpose:

It therefore seems clear that the current legislation does not provide a way to tackle the core of the problem – various laws touch on it, and may apply in a few cases, but many instances of revenge porn, no matter how harmful, are simply not covered. That is why I and my colleagues in the House of Lords have tabled an amendment to make it criminal. None of us are the sort who immediately reach for new criminal offences, but in this case we have been persuaded it is needed. …

Of course, legislation alone will not fix the problem. It needs to be properly enforced, which means ensuring that the police take this issue seriously. It also needs people to be educated – the aim is to stop revenge porn, not to punish people after it has happened. I would like to see compulsory sex and relationships education, including discussing issues about consent, at all schools for all pupils.

For at heart, this is an issue of consent. Consent for a photo to be taken does not mean consent for the entire world to see it. We must take action.

You can read Julian’s article in full here — and the other articles we’ve published on LDV about revenge porn here.

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8 Comments

  • Little Jackie Paper 3rd Aug '14 - 5:41pm

    ‘For at heart, this is an issue of consent. Consent for a photo to be taken does not mean consent for the entire world to see it.’

    As much as I might agree on the revenge porn issue I’m afraid that this quote above shows quite what a can of worms we are getting into here. Particularly with the internet where I suspect that all of this is entirely unenforceable in any case.

  • Every day I see at least two people driving and using a mobile phone pinned to their ear. It’s illegal…?? When pondering the drafting of a law to right a wrong, you need to consider several things.
    Is it (practically), enforceable?
    Is it watertight? Suppose an ex posts embarrassing details of someone which are factual but which could in no way be considered pornographic?
    Suppose the photographs are sold to a third party for cash, and posted by that person who has no connection with the victim, hence no revenge link in any subsequent action?
    Do the police, CPS, and the whole legal system, have the resources to deal with this extra request on their time?
    If the legal system, don’t have the resources to implement this new extra legislation, do the government have the extra money to fund it?
    Will the taxpayers be happy for this (their!), extra tax money to be spent on an issue where the better option would be to ask folk to ‘think first’, and take more personal responsibility, before they indulge a jpg, to ‘the moment’?
    And finally, Is this knee jerk legislation and think later, the kind that makes a mockery of politics?

  • For at heart, this is an issue of consent. Consent for a photo to be taken does not mean consent for the entire world to see it. We must take action.

    This worries me. What are the limits? Could David Miliband use such legislation to suppress a photo of him walking with a banana in his hand? Could Ed Miliband suppress photos of him getting into a mess eating a bacon bap? What are the limits to suppressing public publication of photos that are embarrassing?

    Very many photos are published in the media neither with consent for the photo to be taken, nor with consent for the photo to be publicised.

    The difficulty with legislation is that it becomes the prerogative of the wealthy. Whilst I do not think the Miliband photos I referred to contribute an iota to public discourse, I find it hard to support legislation that would suppress them. Can the legislation be framed so that it is restricted to that which is clearly pornographic? This though raises the question of what is and is not pornographic.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 4th Aug '14 - 6:48pm

    Point 1. don’t post silly images on the internet which can come back to bite you;
    Point 2. if you are foolish and deposit silly things in a ‘cloud’ etc, there should be legal measures to protect you;
    Point 3. when the laws are circumvented by media, we need laws for the individual which support privacy.

  • George – “make it illegal” is an easy thing to say. But just what are you making illegal – it needs to be properly defined (and bear in mind that with criminal law any ambiguity is usually interpreted in favour of the accused). As for illegality making it possible to

    Martin – I think your right to pick Julian up on this – and the consent point is at the heart of this and will need very careful and thoughtful drafting

    The first point I would make is that it is about expectations. It is pretty generally regarded that no consent is needed to photographs taken in a public space and I don’t see anything that would run counter to that.

    My suggestion was that this would only apply to images of a private nature (using the definition in the voyeurism section of the Sexual Offences Act) published without a reasonable belief that the person(s) pictured consented to them being published in a public place. Where the pictures were taken in the course of a relationship, the pictures were not published during the the course of that relationship and the relationship had now ended there would be a rebuttable presumption that there was no consent to them being published.

    That seems like the sort of criteria that actually address the harm that there is here.

    The point about police resources and willingness to prosecute is an important one. I know of two instances reported which did breach current laws (one involving under-age images, the other images taken without consent) that weren’t prosecuted.

    Tony. I agree if someone posts explicit images of themselves online then they shouldn’t be able to rely on the law for protection. However that is not what we are talking about here but images which were taken, usually with the specific intention of them remaining private and posted online without the person pictured’s knowledge.

  • Suppose you were in a relationship and chose to share with your partner that you had a particular sexual peccadillo of some sort or another. If this fetish of yours became public knowledge, it would doubtless be very embarrassing. Thus it is only shared with your partner in the strictest of confidences. Nevertheless, your relationship soon breaks down and to get back at you your partner tells a few friends about your fondness for latex, golden showers, wearing a Lid Dem polo shirt during intercourse or whatever. These few friends tell a few more friends, who in turn tell a few more friends, and before long you become a laughing stock, ashamed to show your face in the wee hamlet you’re from.

    Is the above example all that different from the issue of ‘revenge porn’? As far as I can see, the only major difference relates to how the information is shared. Namely, in the above example the ex-partner only tells a few people, whereas posting something on the internet shares it with the whole world, so to speak. Yet that is only a difference in quantity, not quality. (One could of course argue posting pictures versus sharing knowledge is a substantial qualitative difference, but as the end result–humiliation–is the same, that doesn’t seem the soundest of arguments.)

    And the moral of the story is? Relationships are a murky business. They can go horribly wrong. In the process people get hurt and humiliated. Yet legislation to protect against this would be a most cumbersome of instruments, which would likely cause as many problems as it would fix. Instead, perhaps before sharing confidential information or posing for a revealing photograph, people should ask themselves whether this is a sensible thing to do. Above all, people should ask themselves whether they really trust the person they are doing this with. Because if someone shares something embarrassing about you without your consent, that makes them a rotter, without doubt. But at the same time, that you gave them this ammunition in the first place makes you a fool. And for obvious reasons, legislation designed to protect foolishness does not seem the wisest of things. In respect of this issue especially, it allows the supposed victim to abrogate all personal responsibility for their actions–not something a sensible legal system should look to reinforce.

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