People who send revenge porn to victims' family to face toughest sentences

Hayden Smith
Getty

Revenge pornography offenders who send explicit pictures to victims’ families or set up websites to magnify their targets’ humiliation will face the toughest penalties under new sentencing proposals.

For the first time guidelines have been drafted for courts dealing with defendants convicted of disclosing private sexual images without consent.

The offence, which carries a maximum prison term of two years, was introduced in April 2015 following calls from campaigners and victims.

The Sentencing Council will launch a consultation today on proposed rules for judges and magistrates when punishing revenge porn perpetrators in England and Wales.

The document sets out circumstances that could constitute the highest level of culpability, and therefore attract a sentence at the upper end of the scale.

Behaviour calculated to cause maximum distress – such as sending images to a victim’s family who are very religious, or to their young sibling – will fall into this category.

Cases that are “sophisticated” or involve significant planning will also be viewed as particularly serious. An example would be setting up fake social media profiles or websites in the victim’s name to upload offending material and exposing them to sexualised contact from strangers.

Defendants who circulate pictures widely, or in large numbers, will also face being dealt with in the most serious bracket.

Prior to the change two years ago, revenge porn cases had to be pursued under copyright or harassment laws. More than 200 prosecutions have been brought since the legislation took effect.

Harassment, stalking, controlling and coercive behaviour and threats to kill are also covered by the draft guidelines on “intimidatory” crimes, while the Council has also drawn up revised guidance for domestic abuse cases.

The crime of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship was introduced in December 2015 to crack down on repeated abuse in the home.

It can apply to a range of behaviours, such as controlling victims through social media, spying on them online, stopping them from socialising or refusing them access to money. Offenders can face up to five years in jail.

The consultation sets out examples of behaviour intended to maximise distress, such as taunting a victim about a baby they had lost.

A sophisticated offence could involve setting up spyware to track and monitor mobile phone and laptop use.

The revised guidelines on domestic abuse emphasise that the fact an offence took place in this context makes it more serious because the crimes are rarely a one-off and may result in death.

The proposed new regime is not expected to have a major impact on types or levels of sentence given, but they do reflect increased maximum terms for stalking and harassment.

Sentencing Council member Mrs Justice McGowan said: “These offences can be particularly sensitive and distressing, leading to very significant harm to victims.

“The new guidelines we are proposing will help ensure sentences reflect the seriousness of these offences and take into account the increases in sentence levels for stalking and harassment introduced by Parliament.”

Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless a judge or magistrate feels it is not in the interests of justice to do so.

Javed Khan, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, said: “We welcome new sentencing proposals to punish revenge porn offenders in England and Wales who intend to cause the maximum distress to their victims.

“The devastating effects of sharing sexual images without consent can never be underestimated and often leaves young lives in tatters.

“Offenders must pay for their actions and we must make sure those affected are given the support they need.”

PA

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