Cyber Flashing And Revenge Porn Victims Could Get Better Protection In Review Of Sexual Abuse Laws

The two-year commission will also look at deepfake pornography.

Victims of cyber flashing, revenge porn and deepfake porn could be granted better protection as part of a potential overhaul of image-based sexual abuse laws, the government has announced.

Over the past year, HuffPost UK has reported on the experiences of more than 80 women in the UK who have been sent unsolicited sexual images on their mobile phones – known as cyber flashing – while they were in public spaces, on transport, at university, or in their own homes. They reported being left feeling “violated”, “sick” and “uncomfortable” by the behaviour.

Now the government has asked the independent legal reform watchdog the Law Commission to examine existing legislation in England and Wales, in order to ensure it is keeping pace with advancements in technology.

The announcement comes two months after a specific upskirting law was introduced, following a high-profile campaign by activist Gina Martin, who argued that victims had been left without access to justice through existing legislation.

Recent research suggests that in 10 people has been a victim of revenge porn – the sharing of non-consensual explicit images without the subject’s permission – but such an offence is currently dealt with under communications legislation. That means victims are not automatically granted anonymity in the same way as victims of other sexual abuse.

The review, which will begin on 1 July and continue until summer 2021, will also consider deepfake pornography – where technology is used to superimpose an individual’s face on pornographic imagery or film without his or her consent.

Campaigners said they were disappointed that the lengthy review would not see a swift solution to the issues surrounding “outdated” laws.

Getty / HuffPost UK

The Women And Equalities Select Committee first proposed that cyber flashing should be criminalised in October 2018, when it published its own review calling for a change in the law around sexual-image based abuse. The government was given 60 days to respond to proposals but missed the December deadline.

Digital secretary Jeremy Wright and Justice Minister Paul Maynard announced the new review amid rising concerns that technology has made it easier to create and distribute sexual images of people online without their permission.

“If the criminal laws are not up to scratch, we will propose reforms that simplify the current patchwork of offences to provide more effective protection for victims,” said Professor David Ormerod QC, criminal law commissioner at the Law Commission.

“Behaviours such as taking, making and sharing intimate images without consent, or co-ordinated online harassment, causes distress and can ruin lives.”

Conservative MP Maria Miller, chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, said the announcement would be welcomed by victims and campaigners after years of calls for updates to the law.

“We need a specific image-based sexual abuse law to get rid of the fragmented approach to dealing with these offences which is currently in place,” she said.

The government said the review will consider the case for granting automatic anonymity to victims of these sexual offences, so they cannot be named publicly. “No-one should have to suffer the immense distress of having intimate images taken or shared without consent,” Jeremy Maynard said.

“We are acting to make sure our laws keep pace with emerging technology and trends in these disturbing and humiliating crimes,” he added. The aim being: “to protect victims and ensure perpetrators feel the full weight of the law”.

But Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said victims needed access to justice at an earlier stage than any Law Commission review could guarantee. She said: “While ministers claim tackling this sort of abuse is a priority, they launch a review which will take two years to report. Any new laws and protection are years away.

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

Clare McGlynn, professor in law at Durham University and an expert on image-based sexual abuse, said that while she welcomed the government’s acknowledgement of the need for comprehensive law reform, immediate action was needed “before more people’s lives are shattered”.

“We don’t need further consultation to understand how urgent this is,” said McGlynn. “Law reform is only the start; the government must act now to increase resources to support victims.”

Additional reporting by the Press Association.