Backing For 'Revenge Porn' Jail Terms

Jail sentences of up to five years for so-called "revenge porn'' offences would send a message to the public that such behaviour is not acceptable and a form of domestic and sexual abuse, Scotland's senior prosecutor has said.

Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland has already called for specific legislation to tackle the growing problem of individuals who post explicit images of people - usually former partners - on the internet without their consent.

At the moment such behaviour is prosecuted under existing legislation, using charges such as breach of the peace.

Mr Mulholland said: "At the moment we shoehorn this type of offending into existing behaviour. It can be treated as a breach of the peace, and that is unsatisfactory. This is a form of domestic abuse and sexual abuse.

"If Parliament were to decree it as an offence then it could, for example, carry a prison sentence of say five years maximum, which would send a message to the public.''

He added: "Parliament should consider the evidence and vote on whether it should be considered a criminal offence - and the penalties for it. That would sent out a message to victims and perpetrators that it is not acceptable.''

Mr Mulholland said it could be "hugely upsetting'' for people to find intimate sexual pictures of them had been posted online without their permission.

"The effect is humiliation and it can, in extreme cases, lead to someone considering or actually taking their own life,'' he said.

"These are the potential consequences. It's a very serious crime.''

The Lord Advocate said: "We do not want victims dealing with this on their own. We want to empower people. I would tell victims that they need to go to the police. It will be taken seriously.''

Prosecutors south of the border have already been given new advice on how to deal with such cases, with updated guidance issued by the Crown Prosecution Service in England earlier this month.

The House of Lords agreed to make revenge pornography a criminal offence in England, and Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes said ministers at Holyrood must follow suit.

Ms McInnes said: "The House of Lords this week unanimously agreed to amend the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill to make revenge pornography a criminal offence in England and Wales. I am writing to urge the Scottish Government to follow its example and introduce specific legislation to tackle these vile and damaging acts.

"The Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC, has expressed concerns that there is significant under-reporting of this issue. It is important that victims don't suffer in silence and know that they have done nothing wrong. I believe that introducing specific legislation to tackle these despicable and cowardly acts will give victims confidence that such violations of their privacy are unacceptable and illegal.

"In addition to empowering more people to seek justice, creating a specific criminal offence would help overcome any archaic attitudes towards the use of revenge pornography as a cruel tool to distress, embarrass, manipulate or humiliate someone.''

A spokesman for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: "The Lord Advocate raised this issue earlier this year and highlighted the very damaging effect this offending can have on victims.

"We are committed to the robust prosecution of these offences and to tackling all forms of abuse within intimate partner relationships.

"Our focus is very much on how best to protect the victims of this emerging mode of offending and we are working with key stakeholders including police, Scottish Women's Aid, Rape Crisis and Victim Support to raise awareness and hope that in doing so that we can provide greater confidence to victims to report cases.''

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