New 'revenge porn' law comes into force in Scotland

Revenge porn concept image Image copyright PA

People convicted of sharing intimate images without consent could face up to five years in prison under new legislation which has come into force.

The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Act now makes it easier to prosecute so-called revenge porn.

Women's rights groups said sharing intimate photographs and video caused "devastating harm" to victims.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said it would give police and prosecutors "robust powers" to tackle the issue.

The new legislation, which was passed unanimously by MSPs last March, makes it an offence to "disclose, or threaten to disclose, an intimate photograph or film" without consent.

It comes in response to a growing problem as easy access to devices like smart phones means pictures and videos taken with the expectation of privacy can be now far more easily shared publicly online through outlets such as social media.

The new offence:

  • covers photographs or films showing people engaged in a sexual activity which would not usually be done in public, or with their genitals, buttocks or breasts exposed or covered only with underwear
  • does not cover the sharing of other materials such as private text messages and emails which are dealt with under separate legislation
  • does not apply to sharing photographs of naked protests or streakers at sports matches

Research commissioned by Scottish Women's Aid found that more than two thirds (78%) of adults believed it should be illegal for someone to share an intimate image they have been sent.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionPosters have been used to highlight the introduction of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Act

More than eight in 10 of those asked said it should be illegal for someone to share an image they have taken, without the consent of the person shown in the image.

A new public awareness campaign is being launched to coincide with the legislation coming into force.

It will highlight the consequences of sharing intimate photographs or video of a current or former partner without their permission.

The campaign has been developed in partnership with Scottish Women's Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland, ASSIST, Police Scotland and the Crown Office - all of whom are involved in dealing with the crime and its consequences.

Earlier this year, the Scottish government used hard-hitting posters to raise awareness about the new legislation.

Image caption Mr Matheson said police and prosecutors would seek to secure convictions through the courts

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: "Social media is great for people keeping in contact but it is also being used in an abusive way by some individuals, particularly around the disclosure of intimate images, or even threatening to disclose intimate images. The legislation that comes into force as of today will make it an offence to actually do so.

"Our police and prosecutors will investigate the issues very thoroughly and, where there is the evidence to do so, they will seek to secure a prosecution through our courts.

"If someone is convicted of this type of offence they could spend up to five years in jail."

Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women's Aid, said: "So-called revenge porn is not about revenge, and it's not about porn. It's about power, control and humiliation.

"Sharing, or threatening to share intimate pictures or videos of someone without their consent causes devastating harm to victims and it is absolutely right that the law should reflect this.

"Our research on this showed that most victims of this crime suffered long term anxiety, and some mentioned feelings of self-harm and suicide because their intimate images were shared without their consent.

"The fear and anxiety it creates can creep into every corner of a victim's life and relationships. It's absolutely unacceptable and it is never the victim's fault."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites