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Image-based sexual abuse: action needed now


Ministry of Justice, Law Commission, review, image-based sexual abuse, report, Professor Clare McGlynn, Dr Kelly Johnson, Professor Erika Rackley, EVAW‘Urgent legal changes needed to protect victims of image-based sexual abuse.’

The Ministry of Justice launched a Law Commission review of the law around the non-consensual taking, making and sharing of sexual images last week.

Justice Minister Paul Maynard and Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright have asked the Law Commission to examine whether current legislation is fit to tackle new and evolving types of abusive and offensive communications, including image-based abuse, amid concerns it has become easier to create and distribute sexual images of people online without their permission.

The Law Commission is the statutory independent body created by the Law Commissions Act 1965 to keep the law of England and Wales under review and to recommend reform where it is needed.

The review will consider a range of disturbing digital trends such as ‘cyber-flashing’ – when people receive unsolicited sexual images of someone over the phone – and ‘deepfake’ pornography – the degrading practice of superimposing an individual’s face onto pornographic photos or videos without the person’s consent.

It will also consider the meaning of terms such as ‘private’ and ‘sexual’ in the context of the taking and sharing of images without consent, and the case for granting automatic anonymity to revenge porn victims, so they cannot be named publicly, as is the case for victims of sexual offences.

The review started on 1 July 2019 and will report back in the summer of 2021.

Professor Clare McGlynn, of Durham University Law School, whose detailed report on Image-Based Sexual Abuse was published earlier this week, said: “While I welcome the government’s recognition of the need for comprehensive law reform, we need to act now before more people’s lives are shattered by these abuses.

“We do not need further consultation to understand how urgent this is. It is incumbent upon the government to now announce further resources to support victims.”

The report, by Professor Clare McGlynn, and Assistant Professor Kelly Johnson, from Durham University, and Professor Erika Rackley, from the University of Kent, has revealed the extent of the devastation this type of sexual abuse causes.

Victim-survivors, they say, experience it as an extreme and intrusive violation that does not ever stop, making them feel totally isolated from family, friends and society as a whole. Many suffer harassment and fear for their safety.

In addition, image-based sexual abuse thrives on myths: myths about motives, myths about victims and myths about political, legal and institutional responses.

The reality is that image-based sexual abuse is motivated by control, as well as misogyny, men’s entitlement and ‘laddish’ attitudes.

Image-based sexual abuse is a gendered harm, with many victim-survivors experiencing devastating harms because of the social and political context of the sexual double standard and online abuse of women.

And a lack of support leaves victim-survivors isolated, often attempting to navigate alone an unfamiliar, complex and shifting terrain of legal provisions and online regulation.

The researchers are calling on the UK government to give automatic anonymity to victim-survivors of all forms of image-based sexual abuse and introduce a comprehensive criminal law sooner rather than later, and make a range of recommendations regarding what needs to be done about this issue.

Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, (EVAW), said the announcement of a Law Commission review of the laws surrounding ‘cyber flashing’, ‘revenge porn’ and ‘deepfake’ pornography was very disappointing.

“While Ministers claim tackling this sort of abuse is a priority, they launch a review which will take two years to report,” she explained.

“Any new laws and protection are years away. Given the speed of technological change, how quickly on-line abuse evolves and how harmful it is right now, this is completely unacceptable.

“Experts including specialist women’s services and academics have told the government what changes are needed to the law.

“It has been clear for some time that a comprehensive new law tackling on-line abuse, focused on the harm done to the victim rather than a narrow examination of intent is needed.

“Alongside new criminal laws, victims need to be able to access specialist services and need to be protected by the same anonymity afforded to victims of off-line sexual violence.

“Women and girls need real world protections today – they can’t wait for years for the government to take action.”

To read ‘Shattering Lives and Myths: A Report on Image-Based Sexual Abuse’, click here.

And please forward it to your MP.

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