New data has revealed that charging rates for intimate image offences, or “revenge porn”, remain low despite an increase in the number of offences recorded each year.
Domestic abuse charity Refuge issued freedom of information requests to 43 police forces in England and Wales, to which they received just 24 complete responses.
In total, there were 13,860 intimate image offences across these forces. In about 35% of offences, the police identified a suspect, but no further action was taken as survivors were either unable or unwilling to support prosecution. What’s more, 22% resulted in no further action due to “evidential difficulties”. The perpetrator was charged or summonsed in just 4% of cases.
There were 26% more offences recorded in 2020 than in 2019, and a 40% increase between 2020 and 2021. In the first six months of 2022, more offences were recorded than in all of 2020. Refuge said the increased reporting of this abuse could be due to the expansion of the offence in criminal law as well as heightened public awareness of the crime.
Intimate image abuse refers to perpetrators sharing or threating to share intimate or sexual photographs or videos of a survivor, without their consent, to inflict emotional distress on survivors, something Refuge describe as “a tool of coercive control”. The charity added:
“The act of sharing or threatening to share intimate images on the internet, or with a survivor’s family, friends, colleagues, or new partner has a devastating impact on women’s mental health and physical safety and often leads to social isolation and economic harm.”
Sharing intimate images without consent has been a crime since 2015, though threatening to share intimate images without consent only became a crime in 2021 following Refuge’s “The Naked Threat” campaign.
Refuge noted that, it’s a “positive sign” that more survivors are coming forward to report these crimes, prosecutions remain extremely low, and Refuge is “still hearing from survivors that intimate image offences, including threats to share, are not being taken seriously by the Police”.
Ruth Davison, Refuge CEO said:
“Our frontline staff report that whilst public awareness around intimate image abuse has risen, and women are more informed about the criminal nature of these threats, by and large police officers don’t seem to be aware of the change to the law and are still turning women away because their abuser hasn’t shared the image in question. Police must take threats to share intimate images seriously, we know that this is a crime that causes significant harms, affecting women’s mental health and wellbeing.
We hear from survivors that there is a pervasive culture of victim-blaming around intimate image abuse in the police, with women being blamed for sharing an intimate image with their perpetrator.
Police forces must receive robust and consistent training to ensure their officers are up to date with the law and are confident in identifying intimate image offences and gathering evidence to support prosecutions. Officers need to know how to respond to and support survivors appropriately so that survivors aren’t forced to drop out of the criminal justice process.
Despite sharing insight from our services and survivors with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, it is disappointing that eighteen months since the offence was expanded Refuge has received very little information as to how they plan to monitor and improve the implementation of this offence. Changes to the law will only make a material difference for survivors if they are properly implemented and monitored.”