Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Revenge porn (again)

Screenshot from banner of revenge porn website
Revenge porn
I talked about the proposal to create an offence involving images that are construed to be "revenge porn" back in June.  It's an issue that simply won't die the death it so desperately needs to.

In the latest instalment of the campaign for yet more legislation the BBC published a story of one woman's "six-month ordeal" at the hands of her ex-boyfriend.

I am sometimes accused (usually by people who don't read the whole thing) of lacking sympathy for victims and not wanting offenders prosecuted, but that's not true.  I do have sympathy for this lady and have no problem with her ex being prosecuted.  What I object to is the knee-jerk reaction to create a new crime for every social problem in the hope that will solve the problem... it won't!  I'll let you into a secret - murder has been illegal for as long as anybody can remember yet people are still murdered... on average someone is killed unlawfully every day!  Making revenge porn a crime won't stop it happening it will just mean that there is a new crime that the police don't have the resources to properly investigate and prosecute.

The thing that angers me the most is that in the campaign to promote this new legislation victims are being let down.  I give you this line from the Beebs story, "Surrey Police said it was "virtually powerless" to act as "revenge porn" was not covered in criminal legislation."

"Virtually powerless"?  Now, I know that Surrey Police have heard of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (itself another hastily and poorly drafted knee-jerk reaction to a high profile case in the mid-1990s) because I've sat in interviews where their officers have questioned suspects accused of harassment.  Section 1 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 has this to say:

"(1) A person must not pursue a course of conduct—
(a) which amounts to harassment of another, and
(b) which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other."
How do we know whether something is harassment or not?  Well, the PHA 1997 has the answer in section 1(2):

"the person whose course of conduct is in question ought to know that it amounts to [or involves ] harassment of another if a reasonable person in possession of the same information would think the course of conduct amounted to [or involved ] harassment of the other"
We are also told by section 7(2) that harassment can include "causing the person distress".  I suspect that publishing dirty pictures of somebody without their consent would cause them distress.

Section 7(3)(a) of the Act tells us that a "course of conduct" means "conduct on at least two occasions in relation to that person".  At section 7(4) it also tells us that “'Conduct' includes speech".

So, were the police correct to say that they were powerless to help the lady in Aunty's story?  Clearly not.  There was plenty they could have done. but for whatever reason they appear to have chosen to do nothing.