Reported incidents of ‘revenge porn’ are increasing according to new figures published by the news agency, Press Association.

The figures, obtained under a Freedom of Information request, show that, for the six month period from October 2014 to April 2015, 139 allegations were recorded by 14 police forces in England and Wales.  As this represents only one-third of police forces, the figures are likely to be much higher.  So far, six of these allegations have proceeded to charge.

The figures for this period coincide with the introduction of CPS guidelines, which were issued in October 2014 to assist the police in identifying which existing laws could be implemented in order to bring prosecutions against those who maliciously post private sexual photographs of individuals on line without their consent.

Whilst investigating authorities previously had to rely on both existing civil and criminal laws to deal with these types of offences, such as the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Communications Act 2003 and the Malicious Communications Act 1998, legislation has now been created to specifically define and deal with the offence. 

As highlighted by my colleague Sandra Paul in her blog “The offence formally known as revenge porn”, “Disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress” has been in force since April 2015 and an offence has been committed if such material is disclosed without the consent of the individual who appears in the material and it is disclosed with the intention of causing that individual distress.  On conviction, a sentence of up to two years could be imposed.  To date, one individual, Jason Asagba, has been convicted under this new legislation following a guilty plea for posting intimate photographs of a 20 year old woman on Facebook and sending them to her family.  He is currently awaiting sentence.

The recent rise of reported incidents suggests that the publicity over high-profile revenge porn cases, together with the implementation of the CPS guidelines, has both encouraged and enabled the police to proceed to investigation and charge. 

It seems likely that the new offence will inevitably encourage further investigations and prosecutions.  However, the legislation has been criticised on the basis that it does not align with existing laws and has capacity to create legal uncertainty.  For example, there is no definition of “consent” and there is no provision to protect the anonymity of complainants.  Furthermore, there is no provision to protect the identity of a complainant, as is found in other legislation dealing with sexual offences, which may drive some complainants to rely on the civil remedies the new law seeks to replace (see related links below to further blogs on these issues).

That existing laws are perfectly adequate to deal with these matters may be borne out by these new figures, although not all of the offences reported have yet proceeded to charge and, of those which have, many are yet to conclude.   It will be interesting to see whether the new legislation goes on to effectively provide a stand-alone remedy for this increasingly prevalent offence or whether it creates further uncertainty in an already confused legal landscape.