A new law in England and Wales has made it illegal to post images and videos of a type that has become known as “revenge porn.” This phrase refers to explicit images and videos taken by or given to a partner for personal use, but which that partner posts online after a breakup without the permission of the person depicted.
Some existing laws already had the potential to be used to prosecute revenge porn, but often legal action has not been taken in relation to such incidents. Now, the act of posting these images or videos online without the permission of the former partner involved has been made a specific criminal offence in England and Wales, and it is hoped that this will lead to greater numbers of successful prosecutions against perpetrators.
The concept of revenge porn is not entirely new, though the phrase has only recently been coined. In the past, there have been reports of exes sending explicit photos to pornographic magazines without the permission of the subject, or simply posting copies through the doors of friends and family to humiliate their former partners. However, advancing technology has amplified the problem in recent years.
The internet and its bustling market for user-uploaded videos and images has made it easier for people to share images of former partners, and has meant that they can now potentially be shared on a worldwide scale. As such, the problem of revenge porn has become bigger and more widespread, and websites have sprung up that are entirely devoted to sharing this kind of material. Social media has also made things easier for those vengeful exes who choose to share images with their immediate social circle and beyond.
At the same time, technologies such as digital photography and, in particular, the advent of smartphones with good-quality cameras have made it easier to create explicit images and to share them with a partner. Once people needed a dedicated camera and, unless they were content with a small Polaroid image, had to worry about where to get such a photo developed. Now, photos and even videos can now be captured digitally on a device that most people keep to hand at all times, and which is able to upload directly to the internet if the owner chooses.
The new law covers distribution offline as well as over the internet, including distribution of physical copies of the image. It covers any images “which show people engaged in sexual activity or depicted in a sexual way or with their genitals exposed, where what is shown would not usually be seen in public” and which have been shared without the permission of the subject with the intention of causing harm.
The Scottish Government says that it plans to consult on the possibility of introducing a similar law in Scotland. The Northern Irish Department for Justice emphasises that revenge porn is illegal under existing laws, but also intends to consider the case for making it a specific offence.