Just 12 revenge porn convictions in Birmingham and Black Country – despite hundreds of potential victims

 

Just 12 people were convicted of sharing revenge porn in the West Midlands last year.

It became a criminal offense to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress in April 2015, but numbers of prosecutions and convictions resulting from the new law are still low.

The founder of a helpline for victims, which is receiving thousands of calls each year, said poor responses from police, as well as victims fearing reprisals or people finding out, may be behind the low number of convictions nationally.

In the West Midlands police force area, there were 13 prosecutions for revenge porn in 2017, leading to 12 convictions.

This was down from 24 prosecutions and 22 convictions in 2016.

Of those prosecuted in 2017, five were men aged 25 or over, three were men aged 21 to 24, one was a man aged 18 to 20, one was a woman aged 25 or over, two were women aged 21 to 24, and one was a woman aged between 18 and 20.

The Revenge Porn Helpline has been contacted 13,221 times since it launched in 2015, including 3,798 times in 2018 alone.

Founder Laura Higgins said the gap between the number of prosecutions and the potential number of victims was in part due to unhelpful responses from police.

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She said: “The police response is appalling.

“We feel we’re banging our head against a brick wall.

“One thing is the lack of training, it’s a constant problem.

“Victim blaming is really rife, they don’t get it.

“There’s a lot of ‘you shouldn’t have shared the picture’, but often they haven’t.

“I’ve spoken to two victims this morning, who rang 101 – one victim, the response was ‘um, we don’t know what to do, we’ll call you back’.

“That was six days ago.”

Research by the University of Suffolk found 95% of police officers surveyed reported not receiving formal training on how to respond to cases of revenge pornography.

Ms Higgins said the numbers of people charged under Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 – which made revenge porn illegal – didn’t necessarily reflect all of the people charged in relation to the crime.

Around 15% of the cases the helpline see were charged as extortion, while others – often those with a threat to share images – were dealt with under malicious communications.

The helpline, which is currently funded by the UK Government Equalities Office, is backing a campaign by North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan to change the law to give revenge porn victims anonymity.

As the crime is classed as a communications offense, it means victims are not given the automatic anonymity that is given to victims of sexual offenses.

Ms Higgins said: “That’s a huge reason why people don’t report.

“The anonymity thing, it’s huge, [with people saying] ‘I don’t want my family to know’ or ‘it’ll ruin my career’.”

Across England and Wales, 349 people appeared in court in 2017 charged with disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress.

Of these, 261 were convicted.