Shattering Lives and Myths: A Report on Image-Based Sexual Abuse by Professor Clare McGlynn, Professor Erika Rackley and Assistant Professor Kelly Johnson

This report was launched on July 1st at the UK Supreme Court in Parliament Square where the Victims’ Commissioner spoke.

This report is a powerful read. The impact of these crimes on lives is desperate and both the law and police practice need urgent attention to remove material  tackle offenders and support victims.

It quotes victims whose intimate photographs have been taken in secret or who have been forced to be photographed as part of a  controlling domestic relationship and which have then been published on line to the world at large. There are also cases where ‘fake- porn’ has been published where videos or photographs are digitally altered to attach the victims face to pornographic images. Then the same process happens with the same damaging effect though the photographs are a complete fake.

The images can be sent to family and friends, to work colleagues and published and republished on pornography sites until the victim will feel that the world has seen and judged her on these images. Someone with such images can exert control by threatening to publish them, a terrifying hold over their victim.

In 2015 sharing a private image without consent became a crime but only if it can be proven that it was intended to cause the victim distress. Threats to share a private image are not a crime, fake-porn is not included and motives such as exerting control, sharing images for sexual gratification, financial gain or to boost the image of the perpetrators sexual prowess are not crimes either. Critically there is no anonymity for a complainant who will be expected to testify about such images with her name known and the risk of sensational personal publicity and its re-traumatising effect. Police have not acted to help the victims in the report. They have few powers and find the process of getting material removed cumbersome so little is done. Some victims report that they feel blamed by the police for allowing photographs even when they had no choice.

These are all sexual offences. Victims say that being featured online in that way affects them as if they have been raped repeatedly in public.

The motives of the perpetrator are irrelevant. What good motive could there be for such behaviour?

We need a comprehensive criminal law covering all forms of non consensual taking and or sharing real or fake images and the threat to do so, with complainant anonymity to prevent further trauma and the designation of these as sexual offences so that preventive and consequential orders can be used.

This does not seem complex or difficult but it is urgent, the tales here of women and some men who have suffered this show depression, attempts at suicide, withdrawing from family and friends and a life sentence of fear at where appalling images of themselves will next come to the surface. The Law Commission is looking into longer term fundamental reform but change, in the form of changes to the Criminal Procedure Rules to allow anonymity to complainants at the judge’s discretion would work well in the meantime to bring some solace to seriously affected victims.

You can read the Report here.