Birmingham Professor Influences new UK Porn Law

Not everybody will be familiar with the concept of ‘revenge pornography’, but with several high profile cases this year – including the first person in the West Midlands to be convicted of sharing ‘revenge porn’ – the now illegal practice has been hitting headlines. 

Picture of hands and a laptop

‘Revenge pornography’ is described as the practice of sharing sexually explicit images of a person without their consent in order to cause emotional distress. As of early 2015, the practice has been made illegal in the UK. A following seminar in Westminster, co-hosted by The University of Birmingham and others, called for the extension of the legislation to cover more sexual harassment issues, such as the practice of ‘upskirting’.

The panel at the seminar included Birmingham’s Professor Erika Rackley, whose research, alongside Clare McGylnn from the University of Durham, formed the basis of a prominent campaign, led by Rape Crisis and End Violence Against Women, which drove the Prime Minister to make a commitment to extend current ‘extreme pornography’ laws to include images of rape in 2013.

Now, in 2015, the posting of "revenge porn" on the internet is a criminal offence in England and Wales, after Rackley and McGylnn advised members of the House of Lords during the debates surrounding the enactment of the ‘revenge pornography’ provisions. During these debates, Baroness Thornton approved their recommendations, agreeing that the law should be “fit for purpose in our technological age.”

The new laws were enacted in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, and criminalise the possession and distribution ‘revenge pornography’, including images shared on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, and even those shared by text message.

Writing on the subject of ‘revenge porn’, Rackley and McGylnn said “Such images routinely go viral, distributed widely across social media and arriving at “ex-girlfriend” revenge porn websites, or even mainstream pornography sites.”

“For the women affected – and it is overwhelmingly women – it can be devastating. Some have their working and professional lives threatened, others rightly fear for their personal safety, especially where their address or other forms of identification are included (known as “doxxing”). Needless to say this can also entail mental health problems and have knock-on effects on family life and relationships.”

However, the pair also raised the question as to whether the new law is enough to stop the spread of revenge porn, and suggest that something greater needs to be done in order to stop the spread of intimate images online without consent, “So while this law is certainly welcome – it makes clear to all that revenge porn is unlawful – it remains to be seen whether it will be effective.”

“What is really needed is cultural change: a shift in societal attitudes so that it is not just the breach of someone’s privacy by maliciously distributing private images – sexual or otherwise – that is condemned, but also the culture of hostility and aggression that feeds and underpins it. The law can only play a limited role in bringing about that change.”