What is the law on revenge porn in the UK?

15th August 2019 | Sex Offences|
Nick Titchener headshot

Nick Titchener

Director & Solicitor Advocate

In Brief

Revenge porn has been a sexual offence since 2015, and carries a sentence of up to two years’ imprisonment. The law defines it as distributing private explicit images without the consent of the person depicted, which is commonly done maliciously to shame ex-partners. Distribution refers to any form of sharing, whether online via social media or websites or offline via physical copies, and the material can either show a sexual activity or a person depicted in a sexual way or with their genitals exposed.

Revenge porn

Sharing sexual images and videos via digital media on devices such as smartphones has become the norm in today’s society. However, once the image or video has been sent, the sender no longer has control over it and it’s possible for the recipient to share the sexual image or video across many different platforms – with or without the consent of the sender.

It is against this background that on 13 April 2015, Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 came into force, with a maximum of two years’ prison time for perpetrators. This legislation was needed to tackle a growing problem: ‘revenge porn’.

Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate at Lawtons Solicitors, discusses this complex area of the law and its implications if you are found guilty.

What is revenge porn according to UK law?

Revenge porn – as it is now commonly known – involves the distribution of private and personal explicit images or video footage of an individual without their consent, with the intention of causing them embarrassment and distress. Often, revenge porn is used maliciously to shame ex-partners.

Revenge porn was made a specific offence in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015:

Section 33(1) states:

It is an offence for a person to disclose a private sexual photograph or film if the disclosure is made:

(a) without the consent of an individual who appears in the photograph or film, and

(b) with the intention of causing that individual distress.

The Act specifies that if you are accused of revenge porn and found guilty of the criminal offence, you could be prosecuted and face a sentence of up to two years in prison.

A 2016 Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) report stated that 206 people were prosecuted for revenge porn in the first year of the offence becoming classified. It is anticipated that this number may increase given the proliferation and popularity of social media as a platform for sharing and communication on all levels.

Prior to the legislation regarding revenge porn being passed in 2015, the Justice Secretary at the time – Chris Grayling – said: “…we want those who fall victim to this type of behaviour to know that we are on their side. That is why we will change the law and make it clear to those who act in this way that they could face prison.”

English revenge porn law classifies a number of offences, including:

  1. The non-consensual sharing of any explicit film or photograph showing people engaged in a sexual activity
  2. The non-consensual sharing of any explicit film or photograph showing an individual depicted in a sexual way or with their private parts exposed, where what is visible in the image would not be seen in public

What is the sentencing for this offence?

Sentencing for this offence often involves the imposition of a prison sentence as both a deterrent and punishment. It carries a sentence of up to two years’ imprisonment. The law defines it as distributing private explicit images without the consent of the person depicted, which is commonly done maliciously to shame ex-partners. Distribution refers to any form of sharing, whether online via social media or websites or offline via physical copies, and the material can either show a sexual activity or a person depicted in a sexual way or with their genitals exposed.
What are the different types of revenge porn?

The revenge porn law covers the sharing of this explicit media both online and offline. This includes for example:

  1. Anything posted on social networking sites such as Facebook
  2. Messages shared via text or messaging apps such as WhatsApp
  3. Images and videos shared via email
  4. Images and videos published on a website
  5. The distribution of physical copies such as photographs, discs or tapes

What defences are there for revenge porn?

There are defences for revenge porn, stated in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. These include:

  • If the material is disclosed, in the course of, or with a view to publication of journalistic material and that the defendant reasonably believed that publication is in the public interest.
  • If the defendant reasonably believed that the photograph or film had previously been disclosed for reward and that the defendant had no reason to believe that the previous disclosure for reward was made without the consent of the individual.
  • If the defendant can prove that he or she reasonably believed that the disclosure was necessary for the purposes of preventing, detecting or investigating crime.

Important definitions relating to revenge porn law

Under the law, the definition of ‘private’ is any material that would not normally be viewed by the public. ‘Sexual’ refers to images or videos that expose the genitals or that contain content that a reasonable individual would consider as sexual.

Revenge porn legislation in England does not require that the explicit material in question contains both images of a person engaged in a sexual activity and a state of full or partial nudity. The victim could be fully clothed and taking part in a sexual activity and the sharing of this material would still qualify as a criminal offence.

What should you do if you have been accused of spreading revenge porn?

If you have been accused of the criminal offence of revenge porn or you anticipate being arrested for committing the crime, you should act immediately and seek expert legal advice.

The prosecution of revenge porn cases has been treated very severely by the criminal courts, with custodial sentences frequently being imposed. The courts view the sharing of such intimate material as an extremely serious offence, with sentences reflecting where the material has been published or sent and how intimate the material may be.

Once the alleged crime is being investigated, the police will work with the Crown Prosecution Service to take forward the case for prosecution, with the case often relying on a digital footprint. The social stigma surrounding cases of revenge porn involves dealing with heightened emotions and complex, life-changing decision making.

Acting early upon accusation ensures you are able to secure the best possible outcome for your case.

At Lawtons, our priority is to obtain the most desirable result whilst limiting any damage to your reputation. We will do everything possible to challenge the prosecution’s case. Get in touch with our specialist sexual offence solicitors, who can provide expert advice and assistance. We’re also experts in sexual assault, indecent assault and sexual abuse allegations.

About the author

Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate of Lawtons, is a dedicated criminal solicitor  with considerable experience in the most serious legal cases including sexual offences, violence and assault. Nick’s measured and methodical approach means he thrives on even the most complex cases.

Nick also oversees the overall management of Lawtons Solicitors, a specialist firm of criminal defence solicitors serving London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex. 

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