Image-based sexual abuse includes ‘revenge porn’, deepfakes and ‘sextortion’. This abuse can be devastating and even life-threatening. But in England, these aren’t sexual offences. As a victim, you have no right to anonymity, and it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to pursue legal action. During lockdown, these offences skyrocketed, and calls to the Revenge Porn Helpline rose by 100%, but UK laws are out-of-date and failing victims.
In response survivors are speaking out and demanding accountability from platforms and lawmakers. Last week, PornHub suspended all unverified videos, totalling many millions of videos, after victims spoke to the New York Times, and last month Irish survivors demanded government action after thousands of private images were leaked.
Now #MyImageMyChoice, a new campaign set up by a coalition of survivors and advocates, is calling for legal change in the UK. They have launched a Change.org petition www.change.org/myimagemychoice to call on the UK government to introduce a new bill on this issue, a campaign backed by TIME’S UP UK.
In England, if someone shares your private image without consent, it isn’t deemed a sexual offence. You have no right to anonymity. Laws have a motive requirement to prove the perpetrator’s “direct intent to cause distress”. Perpetrators can even avoid charges by saying “I did it for a laugh”. No laws cover fake media. In addition, there are ingrained issues with the police response; officers routinely fail to gather evidence and are untrained to support victims.
Dame Heather Rabbatts, Chair, TIME’S UP UK says: “I hugely support the campaign’s calls for the right to privacy and agency over images of our bodies, and the fact that the law does not support this is an outrage. At TIME’S UP UK we are dedicated to ensuring that people are safe, are free from exploitation and abuse and this is why we support the #MyImageMyChoice campaign.”
ELLESHA’S STORY: “When my ex-partner uploaded non-consensual intimate videos of me to PornHub, I reported him to the police. I learned my ex had an extensive record for violence against women, but my case was dropped. The report said it couldn’t prove he intended to cause me distress, and questioned my claims, morals and character. I was devastated.”
#MyImageMyChoice is asking for reform of the criminal law to:
1. Recognise image-based sexual abuse as a sexual offence.
2. Extend automatic anonymity to all complainants.
3. Cover all forms of this abuse including threats and fakeporn.
4. Remove motive requirements (which are often impossible to prove).
5. Extend civil legal aid to cover legal advice and support for these offences.
But criminal law alone won’t solve this problem. That’s why #MyImageMyChoice is calling for a new bill in parliament. “We desperately need better policy on education, enforcement, platform responsibility,” says Sophie Compton, #MyImageMyChoice co-founder “and we need funding for victim services.” The campaign also asks for the phrase ‘image-based sexual abuse’ to replace ‘revenge porn,’ which implies blame on victims and falsely labels private images ‘porn’ and asserts: we should all have a right to privacy and agency over images of our bodies.