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Eighty ‘revenge porn’ cases in Suffolk as offence linked to wider pattern of abuse

PUBLISHED: 15:15 04 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:15 04 January 2018

Eighty cases of 'revenge porn' have been dealt with by Suffolk police since April 2015. Stock image of pesron using smartphone. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/iSTOCKPHOTO

Eighty cases of 'revenge porn' have been dealt with by Suffolk police since April 2015. Stock image of pesron using smartphone. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/iSTOCKPHOTO

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Harassment and exploitation are a perpetual and growing scourge on society but the rapid growth of the internet brought new mechanisms of oppression to abusers.

The 'be aware b4 you share' campaign launched in February 2015. Picture: MINISTRY OF JUSTICE The 'be aware b4 you share' campaign launched in February 2015. Picture: MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

Like domestic violence, victims of ‘revenge porn’ can be afraid of reprisal, or have been reconciled with their abuser, meaning prosecutions break down.

It’s an ongoing concern for the UK’s first dedicated support service, which has seen a rise in offending since it became law less than two years ago.

In Suffolk, police have dealt with 80 cases of disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress, under section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.

In that time, 15 reports have led to official charges, with evidential difficulties preventing further action or victims withdrawing support – in 27 cases. In 10 cases, no suspect could be identified.

The 'be aware b4 you share' campaign launched in February 2015. Picture: MINISTRY OF JUSTICE The 'be aware b4 you share' campaign launched in February 2015. Picture: MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

Detective Chief Inspector David Henderson, of the constabulary’s Protecting Vulnerable People Directorate, said cases often arise from broken relationships.

“Many offences are the result of relationships that have ended sourly it’s called revenge porn for a reason and it can spread like wildfire,” he added.

“With the increasing use of different platforms to share pictures and videos, it became necessary to create a statute to deal with these offences.

“There are various support networks, including communication between forces and with the government.”

Detective Chief Inspector David Henderson. Picture: SUFFOLK POLICE Detective Chief Inspector David Henderson. Picture: SUFFOLK POLICE

National initiatives include the ‘Be Aware B4 You Share’ campaign, which urges people to be careful about sharing images or videos with anyone no matter their relationship.

“People should also make sure webcams are turned off when not in use, because they can be controlled by viruses,” added DCI Henderson.

“They should also be aware of security settings and make sure security software is up-to-date.

“For victims, there is peer support available via social media, along with Victim Support’s dedicated webpage and the national Revenge Porn helpline.”

The 'be aware b4 you share' campaign launched in February 2015. Picture: MINISTRY OF JUSTICE The 'be aware b4 you share' campaign launched in February 2015. Picture: MINISTRY OF JUSTICE

The new law made revenge porn punishable by up to two years in jail. It applies to uploading images online, sharing by text and email, or showing someone an image. But, in the absence of universal legislation against sharing non-consensual material for other reasons, some international websites operate with impunity.

DCI Henderson said: “If someone intends to cause distress, they will often want their victim to know who was responsible by sending a message of admission. In those cases, we can trace messages, but we can also download content from phones.

“We make requests to websites publishing material, depending if their location recognises our legislation. Generally, the bigger names cooperate, but a lot don’t, so it becomes an international problem.”

The Revenge Porn Helpline last year dealt with 1,093 cases up from 740 in 2016 and 521 in 2015.

Sophie, a helpline practitioner, said many victims just want the images removed, and to put the experience behind them.

For many, she said, going to the police can feel like more exposure.

“However, we always encourage clients to go to the police, and coach them on how to approach them and prepare for that conversation,” she added.

“We also help get content removed, once evidence has been saved.

“I wouldn’t want to neglect some of the excellent police work being done, but many of our clients have reported very poor responses, ranging from comments such as ‘it doesn’t count because he’s your ex’, ‘it doesn’t count because he’s not your ex’, or ‘it’s not against the law’, to not being logged as a crime, cases closed with no investigation despite evidence, and giving perpetrators days of notice that they’re coming round, giving plenty of time for images and posts to be deleted.

“The majority of cases include wider behaviours of domestic abuse, stalking and harassment, and there is a lack of understanding of the need to look at the pattern of behaviour not just the individual offences.

“Much like domestic abuse, victims can be afraid of reprisal, or have been reconciled with the perpetrator, which will lead them to not support a prosecution.”

A police spokesman said: “We take all reports seriously and have a number of checks and balances in place to ensure that, if a crime has been committed, it is recorded and allocated accordingly.”

Call the helpline on 0345 6000 459 or visit revengepornhelpline.org.uk. To report a crime, call 101.

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