Why it’s time to criminalise revenge porn threats

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  • With one in seven women having received revenge porn threats, domestic abuse charity Refuge is urging the government to revise the Domestic Abuse Bill and save lives

    ‘I’d been in a relationship with my ex-husband for six months when he ordered me to remove my clothes and pose for intimate photos’, says Natasha, 31, a survivor of domestic abuse.

    ‘Posing for these photos made me feel so dirty and worthless, but I was just a teenager and wanted to make him happy. I never imagined they would become leverage for my abuser’s campaign of isolation and coercive control.’

    ‘The threat of those intimate images being shared was my worst nightmare – I had no choice but to comply with his continued abuse or face potential shame and humiliation.’

    Sadly, Natasha’s harrowing experience did not occur in a vacuum. In fact, one in seven women have been threatened that intimate or sexual photos taken of them will be shared without their consent.

    With the number of revenge porn threats rapidly rising within the UK, domestic abuse charity Refuge is calling for such threats to be made a crime.

    According to Refuge, women 18-34 are twice as likely than the general population face revenge porn threats, with this blackmail becoming a common form of abuse.

    Of the women who have received threats, 72%, like Natasha, were blackmailed by a current or former partner, while 82% experienced other forms of abuse. These threats should, therefore, be treated as a domestic abuse issue.

    As it stands, sharing intimate images or footage of someone without their consent – otherwise known as revenge porn – has been illegal in England and Wales since 2015, but there is no specific law that criminalises threats to share intimate images without consent.

    While threats can be part of a prosecution for harassment or coercive control, they currently don’t hold enough weight on their own – limiting the ability of police to intervene. Contrastingly, Scotland has long recognised the harm caused by such threats, which have been made illegal there.

    These threats are having a detrimental impact on women’s mental and physical wellbeing, with over one in 10 women questioned by Refuge admitting they felt suicidal because of the threat, as well as one in seven feeling at greater risk of physical violence.

    Having recently launched its ‘The Naked Threat’ campaign, Refuge has called for the government to make threats to share intimate images or footage a crime, and for revenge porn to be recognised as a type of domestic abuse.

    Although the long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill passed through parliament at the beginning of July, it makes no provision to criminalise revenge porn threats – so the charity is urging the government to use the Domestic Abuse Bill to make a simple legal change to protect women in the online realm.

    ‘A clear law criminalising threats to share intimate and sexual images could also lead to social media companies creating more robust systems to report illegal threats made on their platforms, and take action’, says Ellie Butt, Refuge’s head of policy and public affairs.

    The charity is urging any supporters of this change in the law to put aside a few minutes and email government ministers to show their support. ‘Parliament is going on recess for the summer, but when it returns in September, the Domestic Abuse Bill will be back on the table, so we need to show the government that this is something we have to pay attention to.’

    If you have been affected by domestic abuse or know anyone who has, support is available 24/7 from Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline by phone on 0808 2000 247 or online at www.nationalhelpline.org.uk where there is a live chat service available between 3pm and 6pm, Monday to Friday.

    The Revenge Porn Helpline is also available Monday to Friday to support anyone in the UK who has been affected by this issue.

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