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What is the Law on Revenge Porn?

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The ever-increasing influence of the internet and social media over the past decade has fuelled a substantial growth in the distribution of adult imagery, something which is now fairly common knowledge.

However, what many people don’t realise is that the sharing of intimate and private images and videos online has, in fact, become a matter for the criminal justice system. The term ‘revenge porn’ has been coined to describe such an activity.

In this post, we discuss exactly what revenge porn is, what revenge porn laws in the UK look like, the sort of penalties you can potentially face if you are found guilty of revenge porn and why speaking to an expert revenge porn solicitor is essential if you’re facing an allegation.

What is the meaning of revenge porn?

The first question many people have when dealing with this subject is simply – ‘what is revenge porn?’

To summarise, revenge porn typically involves one half of a couple, or former couple, distributing intimate photographs of their (usually former) partner without their consent. It’s referred to as ‘revenge’ porn, as the act is often some form of payback for something the other partner did wrong or is alleged to have done wrong.

What are the revenge porn laws in the UK?

The law regarding revenge porn is contained within Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. When this legislation came into force, a new criminal offence was created, making it a criminal offence to disclose private sexual photographs with the intent to cause distress and without consent. Revenge porn legislation does not concern itself with motive.

According to the legislation, to prove that the offence of revenge porn was committed, a prosecution is required to provide several elements:

The image or video is ‘private’

One of the key issues which will determine whether something is declared to be an act of revenge porn is whether the image or video in question was deemed to be private in nature.

According to Section 35(2) of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, a photograph or video is considered to be private if it shows ‘something that is not of a kind ordinarily seen in public’.

The image or video is ‘sexual’

Similarly, defining what is and isn’t considered to be sexual is often a deciding factor in many revenge porn cases.

Section 35(3) outlines that a photograph or video is sexual in nature if:

  • It shows all or part of someone’s exposed genitals or pubic area
  • It shows something a ‘reasonable’ person would consider to be sexual
  • The content, taken as a whole, is such that a reasonable person would consider it to be sexual

It’s also important to note that Section 35(4) of the Act also relates to images or videos which have been edited. For example, if someone’s face has been edited onto a naked body, this will be treated in exactly the same way as if the photograph in question displayed the actual naked body of the person.

The image or video has been ‘disclosed’

Section 34 comprehensively discusses that, for someone to ‘disclose’ something to a person, it means that, by any means, he or she gives or shows it to another person or makes it freely available.

This provision still applies if the method of disclosure was electronic, such as if it was shared via instant messaging, text messages or shared on social media.

The image or video was shared with the intention to cause distress

It is important to note that the possibility of causing distress by simply sharing an image or video is not necessarily enough evidence in itself. So, in theory, a person cannot be prosecuted for revenge porn if they share an image with a third party when they genuinely believed that the person depicted wished for that to happen.

Similarly, if it can be shown that someone alleged to have committed revenge porn accidentally shared an image or video with the wrong person, this is unlikely to be enough to warrant an intention to cause distress.

The image or video was shared without consent

The issue of consent is much more difficult to prove in revenge porn cases, as the legislation set out in the Act is not necessarily clear on the standards of consent. Section 33(7) states the following:

“Consent includes general consent covering the disclosure, as well as consent to the particular disclosure”. However, the act does not explicitly disclose any further information on situations where more than one person is involved.

Despite this, it stands to reason that, even if more than one person features in a photo or video, if consent is not obtained by all involved, someone could claim that they are a victim of revenge porn.

What penalties can you face for revenge porn?

Section 33(9) outlines what the potential sentence is for revenge porn. If a person is found guilty after being indicted in a criminal trial, they could face a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.

Revenge porn laws in the UK also outline that, if someone is convicted by a magistrate without trial, the maximum sentence they could face is 12 months’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, or both.

The actual sentence on conviction for revenge porn will depend on the level of harm caused and the degree of culpability of the offender.

Factors affecting the degree of harm may include:

  • The level of distress caused
  • The amount of psychological harm
  • The practical impact of the offence

Factors affecting the degree of culpability may include:

  • The amount of planning involved
  • How widely the images were distributed
  • Whether there were repeated efforts to keep the images available publicly
  • Whether the offender acted in a way to maximise the victim’s distress or humiliation

Revenge porn law also dictates that, if someone is convicted of a revenge porn offence, they will also be required to register as a sex offender, which may affect their current and future employment and personal relationships.

What potential defences are available to allegations of revenge porn?

Because the prosecution needs to prove a number of separate factors to bring forward a revenge porn conviction, there are a number of potential defences which can be used.

For instance, defences could include:

  • The source of the images came from somewhere else (such as if a device was hacked)
  • Where a person discloses a photo or video to the person shown in said photo or video
  • It can be proven that the disclosure of a photo or video was necessary for the purposes of preventing, detecting, or investigating a crime
  • It can be shown that, with a view to the publication of journalistic material, someone believed they were acting in the public interest

Are there are mitigating factors for revenge porn?

There are a range of mitigating factors that could potentially influence the eventual sentence that is handed out if someone is found to be guilty of revenge porn.

For example, mitigating factors could include, but are not limited to:

  • The defendant has no prior convictions or relevant convictions
  • The defendant shows remorse
  • Age and/or lack of maturity
  • Mental disorders or learning disabilities
  • Previous good character

Are there any aggravating factors for revenge porn?

On the other hand, there are also a number of aggravating factors that could increase the severity of a revenge porn conviction.

For example, this could include:

  • Previous convictions
  • Targeting a vulnerable victim
  • If an offence was committed while on bail
  • Additional offences, such as threats and/or blackmail

Should I speak to a solicitor if I’m facing a revenge porn allegation?

If you are facing a revenge porn allegation, it is essential that you speak to a specialist solicitor as soon as possible so that you know your rights and what may potentially harm your defence.

Many people incorrectly assume that speaking to a solicitor when facing an offence such as revenge porn is in some way an admission of guilt. This is not accurate. Regardless of what your circumstances are, it is essential that you enlist specialist representation, which can make all the difference when it comes to avoiding a charge or minimising penalties where conviction is unavoidable.

Our revenge porn solicitors are highly experienced in representing clients accused of revenge porn and have strong expertise in deploying all of the various defence strategies that can be used in relation to these types of offences.

Contact our revenge porn defence lawyers today

For a free initial consultation, urgent specialist advice, immediate representation, or to speak to us confidentially about allegations of committing a revenge porn offence, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

You can contact our dedicated criminal defence lawyers in London, Birmingham, and Manchester by telephone on:

  • City of London – our senior Solicitors and Partners can meet by appointment at one of several locations across the City
  • Brent & Camden London Office: 0207 624 7771
  • Manchester Office: 0161 835 1638
  • Birmingham Office: 0121 614 3333

Or email: solicitors@jdspicer.co.uk

Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

24/7 legal representation for revenge porn allegations

Please get in touch for a free initial consultation with one of our expert criminal defence solicitors, as well as immediate representation and advice on dealing with allegations of a revenge porn offence or any other type of sexual offence.

We are available to represent clients all over England and Wales at any time, so please contact our Emergency Number: 07836 577 556.

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