One in seven young women receive revenge porn threats, finds Refuge survey

Elva Mankin

Getty Images/iStockphoto
Getty Images/iStockphoto

One in seven young women have received threats that intimate photographs of them will be shared without their consent, according to a new survey.

Domestic violence charity Refuge conducted a survey of 2,060 people, including 282 women aged 18-34, and found that this age range are twice as likely than the general population to have sexual photos of themselves used against them as revenge porn.

Revenge porn – the act of “sharing private sexual materials with intent to cause distress” – has been illegal in England and Wales since 2015. In July 2017, it was announced it had become a criminal offence in Scotland, with perpetrators at risk of spending up to five years in prison.

The survey showed that of the one in 14 women overall who had been threatened with revenge porn, 72 per cent were threatened by a current or former partner and of these 83 per cent experienced other forms of abuse.

It added that while 60 per cent of those who experienced threats were under 40, around one in eight were in their 60s, suggesting revenge porn takes place across age groups.

As a result of its findings, Refuge has launched “The Naked Threat” campaign and is calling for the government to make threats to share intimate images or videos a crime and to consider revenge porn as a type of domestic abuse.

The charity says this is vital given that sharing such images has become an increasingly common part of romantic relationships, adding that 27 per cent of young men and 43 per cent of young women have done so.

Ellie Butt, head of policy and public affairs at Refuge, said: “Refuge is launching this campaign as the government heads into the report stage of the Domestic Abuse Bill with a clear ask: the law urgently needs to change and the Bill provides the government with the perfect opportunity to act quickly and decisively.

“Sharing an intimate image is already a crime – rightly so – but now the law needs to move with the times and recognise that threats to share these images causes serious harm regardless of whether the threat is then carried out.”

Refuge’s survey highlighted that 83 per cent of the women who received revenge porn threats said their mental health and wellbeing suffered, with more than one in 10 saying they felt suicidal.

More than three quarters (78 per cent) also said they changed the way they acted, with one in 10 allowing the perpetrator contact with their children, and a slightly lower proportion saying they felt forced to continue or resume the relationship.

Furthermore, around four in 10 of the women had also experienced coercive and controlling behaviour or emotional abuse; a fifth experienced other forms of technology abuse such as phone monitoring, and more than one in four women were sexually abused.

Of those who received threats, almost a quarter (23 per cent) of women and 40 per cent of men said the image was then shared on social media platforms, which Refuge said could have been prevented if threats were made a crime.

Just under two thirds of the women surveyed said they did not report the threats to the police. Refuge said those who do are commonly told nothing can be done unless the image is shared because a threat is not illegal.

Natasha, 31, was six months into a relationship with her now ex-husband when he persuaded her to pose for photos.

“He would berate me and mock my appearance until I gave in. Posing for these photos made me feel so dirty and worthless, but I was just a teenager and I wanted to make him happy,” she said.

“The threat of those intimate photos being shared was my worst nightmare – I had no choice but to comply with his continued abuse or face potential shame and humiliation.”

A government spokesperson said that revenge porn is a “terrible abuse of trust”, adding that since changing the law, more than 700 people have been convicted with over 150 going straight to prison.

“Those who threaten to share such images can already be prosecuted under existing offences, but we have asked the Law Commission to make sure our laws are keeping pace with these evolving crimes,” the spokesperson said.

Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, added: “Victims speak of not going out and being unable to meet anyone new because they feel sure that everyone has seen their intimate image online.

“One victim referred to it as ‘like being raped again and again in public’. It is an increasingly used, and very potent threat by domestic abusers, especially if their victim threatens to leave.”

Nicole Jacobs, domestic abuse commissioner, has also shared her support for the campaign, stating that threats to share images “play on fear and shame”.

“What’s more, the advent of new technologies enable perpetrators to make these threats even where such images do not exist, but there is no clear criminal sanction for this behaviour,” she said.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ council lead for public protection, said police take revenge pornography very seriously, adding: “If prosecution is not possible officers will signpost victims to groups like the National Stalking Helpline who can offer support and advice.

“The College of Policing has produced a briefing and training note which all officers involved in these types of investigations can access.”

If you have been affected by this article, you can contact the following organisations for support: mind.org.uk, refuge.org.uk, womensaid.org.uk, nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth, mentalhealth.org.uk, samaritans.org.

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