World / Crime & Legal

'Revenge porn' victims may be granted anonymity in U.K. courts by government review

Thomson Reuters Foundation

People whose intimate images are shared online without their consent could win anonymity in U.K. courts, like other sexual abuse victims, under a government-backed review of “revenge porn” laws launched Wednesday.

Sharing private sexual photos or videos without consent became a crime in 2015, with a maximum sentence of two years in prison. Most victims are women, often targeted by former partners seeking to extort or humiliate them.

“Taking, making and sharing intimate images without consent causes distress and can ruin lives,” said David Ormerod, a criminal law commissioner with the independent Law Commission, which is carrying out the review, in a statement.

“If the criminal laws are not up to scratch, we will propose reform that protects victims more effectively from this criminal behavior.”

Revenge porn is a growing concern around the world. In March, social media giant Facebook said it would use artificial intelligence to combat revenge porn by removing accounts that are responsible for spreading such images.

South Korea has been in the grip of a “spy-cam” epidemic, in which secret footage of sex, nudity and urination is shared online. A woman in Italy killed herself in 2016 after being harassed when intimate videos of her were posted online.

The U.K. review will also examine whether current laws address emerging trends, such as “deepfake” porn where someone’s face is superimposed on pornographic images without their consent, and “cyberflashing” — sharing unsolicited sexual images by phone.

There were 464 prosecutions for revenge porn in 2017 and 2018, according to the U.K.’s Crown Prosecution Service.

Sophie Mortimer, manager of Revenge Porn Helpline, said the offense should stop being classed as a communications crime, which allows victims to be identified.

“We would strongly encourage a move to make the disclosure of private images a sexual offense, guaranteeing victims anonymity and giving the necessary reassurance to come forward and make formal complaints,” she wrote in emailed comments.

Mortimer added that the organization had been notified of about 4,500 cases since the help line was launched in 2015 and that with greater awareness, more victims were coming forward.

But Rachel Krys, co-director of End Violence Against Women Coalition, said the review — which will report back in mid-2021 — will take too long to catch up with rapidly evolving technology.

“Given the speed of technological change, how quickly online abuse evolves and how harmful it is right now, this is completely unacceptable,” she said in a statement.