Revenge porn: More than 200 prosecuted under new law

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Photo of a man's hands on a laptop keyboard.Image source, PA

More than 200 people have been prosecuted since a new revenge porn law came into force in England and Wales last year, a Crown Prosecution Service report on crimes against women shows.

The director of public prosecutions said the cases were part of a trend of crimes committed through social media.

The use of the internet to control and threaten victims was rising, she said.

Domestic abuse and sex offences make up 18.6% of CPS cases, with prosecutions and convictions at record levels.

The CPS's annual Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) report, which also incorporates data on abuse and sex offences against men and boys, has been produced since 2007.

So-called revenge porn often involves an ex-partner uploading sexual images of the victim to cause the victim humiliation or embarrassment.

It became an offence to share private sexual photographs or films without the subject's consent in England and Wales in April 2015 , with a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment.

The CPS report said 206 people were prosecuted for disclosing private sexual images in the first year of the offence.

It did not specify the number of cases referred to prosecutors.

However, Freedom of Information responses to the BBC from 31 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales showed there had been 1,160 reported incidents of revenge pornography from April 2015 to December 2015.

The responses showed some victims were as young as 11 but 61% of reported offences resulted in no action being taken against the alleged perpetrator. Among the main reasons cited by police include a lack of evidence or the victim withdrawing support for any action.

What does the report show?

In the year 2015-16, ending in March:

  • Domestic abuse, rape and sexual offences accounted for 18.6% of the CPS's overall workload - an increase over the past six years from just under 9%
  • Police referred nearly 117,000 people for domestic abuse - a year-on-year fall of 4% - but prosecutions reached a high of 100,930, with conviction rates up slightly to 74.5%
  • The number of prosecutions for rape was the highest ever recorded (4,643) and almost 58% (2,689) of those prosecuted were convicted of rape or an alternative or lesser offence
  • Child sexual abuse convictions increased by almost 17% to 4,643
  • The number of prosecutions for other sexual offences increased by nearly 23% to 11,995 - with 9,351 people being convicted
  • Nearly 70% (9,077) of stalking and harassment prosecutions were related to domestic abuse - an increase of about 10%
  • There were five prosecutions for controlling or coercive behaviour since a new law came into force in December 2015 - with the CPS saying defendants monitored phone messages and emails and used GPS tracking
Media caption,

Chrissy Chambers describes her revenge porn "nightmare"

Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said changes in the way sexual offences are prosecuted had helped improve conviction rates.

She said she had doubled resources in specialist units handling rape and serious sexual offence cases, and that prosecutors received detailed training.

"Today a rape, domestic abuse, sexual offence or child abuse case is more likely to be prosecuted and convicted than ever before," she added, but there was "still more to be done to ensure all victims receive the service they deserve."

Ms Saunders said technology had created a "new landscape for controlling, sexually-motivated or other forms of inter-personal offending".

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We're working very hard with prosecutors and with social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook to make sure that we understand exactly how social media might be used but we also understand how we might extract the evidence from social media."


By Danny Shaw, Home Affairs Correspondent

Although this category of offences, Violence against Women and Girls, includes crimes against men and boys, the vast majority of victims are female.

In years gone by, their allegations were often not taken seriously; violence in the home was treated as "just a domestic" with police reluctant to get involved; prosecutions weren't considered or were abandoned too readily unless the case was clear-cut.

These figures, however, together with a series of new criminal offences, provide evidence of real change in the justice system, with the CPS more willing to prosecute than ever before.

The question is - do they and the police have sufficient staff to cope with the workload? At a time of scarce resources there's a risk of burn-out.

Rachel Krys from the End Violence Against Women coalition welcomed the report, but said: "The majority of women and girls subject to these crimes do not report them to the police, and the specialist services which support them are fighting for survival."

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid, said the rise in prosecutions and convictions was because "survivors of domestic abuse are starting to have more confidence in the criminal justice system.

"However, we know that much more work is still needed, particularly in understanding of the nature and impact of coercive control."

'Backlash fear'

Rebecca Hitchin from the charity Rape Crisis said some sexual offence victims may still be reluctant to come forward through a fear of not being believed or because of a "potential for backlash" from family and peers.

She said a lengthy and complicated prosecution process could also discourage victims from coming forward.

Revenge porn became a specific offence in Scotland in April when the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Act came into effect, and was made a crime in Northern Ireland in February through the amendment of an existing law.

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