Tougher penalties for revenge porn offenders who attempt to magnify victim’s humiliation

Revenge porn offenders who send explicit pictures to the families of their victims or who set up websites to magnify their targets’ humiliation will face the toughest penalties under new sentencing proposals.

New guidelines have been drafted for courts dealing with defendants convicted of disclosing private sexual images without consent.

Circulating revenge pornography carries a maximum jail term of two years, so those who send pictures to their victims’ families or set up websites could soon face prison terms at the upper end of this scale.

On Thursday the Sentencing Council will launch a consultation on proposed rules for judges and magistrates when punishing revenge porn perpetrators in England and Wales.

The document sets out the circumstances that could constitute the highest level of culpability, thus attracting sentences at the higher end of the two year scale.

Behaviour calculated to cause maximum distress – such as sending images to a victim’s family who are very religious, or to their young sibling – will fall into this category.

“Sophisticated” cases, or those which involve significant planning will also be viewed as particularly serious – for example setting up fake social media profiles or websites in the victim’s name, or uploading material and exposing the victim to sexualised contact from strangers.

Defendants who circulate pictures widely, or in large numbers, will also be placed in the most serious bracket.

Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said: “Revenge porn is an awful abuse of trust which can leave victims feeling humiliated and degraded.

“It is right that our courts recognise the severity of this crime, and I welcome the Sentencing Council’s proposals.”

Javed Khan, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardo’s, said: “The devastating effects of sharing sexual images without consent can never be underestimated and often leaves young lives in tatters.

“Offenders must pay for their actions and we must make sure those affected are given the support they need.”

Harassment, stalking, controlling and coercive behaviour and threats to kill are also covered by the new draft guidelines on “intimidatory” crimes.

The Council has also drawn up revised guidance for domestic abuse cases.

The crime of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship covers behaviour such as controlling victims through social media, spying on them online, stopping them from socialising or denying them access to money. The penalty for it carries a maximum of five years in jail.

The consultation sets out examples of behaviour intended to maximise distress, such as taunting a victim about a baby they had lost.

A sophisticated offence could involve setting up spyware to track and monitor mobile phone and laptop use.

The revised guidelines on domestic abuse emphasise that the fact an offence took place in this context makes it more serious because the crimes are rarely a one-off and may result in death.

The proposed new regime is likely to see an increase in the maximum terms for stalking and harassment.

Sentencing Council member Mrs Justice McGowan said: “These [“intimidatory”] offences can be particularly sensitive and distressing, leading to very significant harm to victims.

“The new guidelines we are proposing will help ensure sentences reflect the seriousness of these offences and take into account the increases in sentence levels for stalking and harassment introduced by Parliament.”

Sentencing guidelines must be followed unless a judge or magistrate feels it is not in the interests of justice to do so.