Government law on 'revenge porn' risks 'justice lottery', warn police

Written by Alan Robertson on 12 October 2015 in News

Scottish Government set out legislative plans last week to tackle sharing of intimate images without consent 

Police have warned of a “justice lottery” developing under Scottish Government plans to tackle the rise of so-called ‘revenge porn’.

New legislation published by ministers last week will make it a criminal offence to share or publish intimate images of someone without their consent.

Prosecutors as well as police have backed the creation of such an offence as part of efforts to tackle domestic abuse perpetrators who attempt to exert control over current or former partners.


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However, Police Scotland warned ministers that the provision contained in the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Bill will not go far enough as the offence will be restricted to images only.

Almost three-quarters of respondents to a government consultation that formed the basis of the bill suggested the likes of audio files, texts and emails should also be brought under the scope of the legislation.   

“The impact of images in the context of this offending behaviour is easily understood as they are salacious and instantly associated to the offence,” according to a submission from the single service.

“However, the impact of the written word and sound files of an intimate nature cannot be understated - if directed to the family, friends and work colleagues of the victim, they can be just as harmful as images.

“The exposure (or threat of exposure) of any of this material/data is designed to humiliate, control and abuse the victim and thus, victims must have access to, and confidence in, the application of robust justice.”

Government rejected the call in the bill that followed, arguing that almost all cases involve the sharing of intimate images and that attempts to extend to other communications could risk “unintended consequences in terms of interference with freedom of speech”. 

The Crown will still be able to prosecute individuals caught sharing other materials under the Communications Act 2003, added civil servants.

However, police suggested the threshold for prosecution in such cases gives rise to a “legislative gap” while a maximum prison sentence of six months is too lenient “given the devastating effect on the victim”. 

“Should this type of offending be split into two tiers, with new bespoke legislation ‘covering’ private, intimate images including moving images and existing legislation ‘covering’ written words and sound files, a justice lottery may develop,” added their submission.

“As such, Police Scotland would support an offence that takes cognisance of all forms of communication and distribution.”

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