Domestic Abuse Bill Committee Stage begins, including opportunity to criminalise threats to share intimate images

 
Critical Committee Stage to begin which can bring about urgent law change via Domestic Abuse Bill 

Peers, Refuge, and Revenge Porn Helpline stand united in their call for the threat to share intimate images to be made a crime.

Revenge Porn Helpline sees calls about threats to share intimate images more than triple between 2017 and 2020 and rise 73% between 2019 and 2020.

The long-awaited and much needed Domestic Abuse Bill starts its Committee Stage on 25th January – this is the last chance in this session of Parliament to change the law to protect women from image-based abuse. The time for the government to act is now. Every day this change to the law is delayed is another day that women are unable to access a criminal justice response to threats to share their intimate images.

  • Refuge, largest single provider of specialist services to women and girls experiencing domestic abuse: ‘the time to change the law is now’.
  • The Revenge Porn Helpline, which runs the county’s only dedicated Helpline on this issue: ‘around a fifth of our calls over the last two years have been from people concerned about threats to        share. Calls on this issue have increased by around 73% during the same time frame –  we cannot ignore that.
  • Lord Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions: ‘it is critical that women are protected, and this simple legal change can do that – but we should act now’
  • Baroness Morgan, former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS): ‘women cannot wait – and it is our duty as politicians to stand up and say so’

The Domestic Abuse Bill, a landmark piece of legislation designed to transform the response to domestic abuse across the country, begins its Committee Stage in the House of Lords on Monday, 25th January. This stage of the Bill gives a unique opportunity to strengthen the law so that it offers better protection to women from the growing and insidious problem of image-based abuse. More than 34,000 people have sent a letter to the government calling for this law change and the Bill’s recent second reading shows the cross-party support for this law change.

The Revenge Porn Helpline, a specialist Helpline set up in 2015 saw calls about threats to share more than triple between 2017 and 2020 and rise by 73% between 2019 and 2020. This is a problem which is growing, and one which the government must act now to address.

Threatening to share intimate images and films is currently not a crime. A recent survey by Refuge showed that 1 in 14 adults in England and Wales – 4.4 million people – have received these threats to share. Young women are disproportionately impacted, with 1 in 7 with 1 experiencing these threats. The Revenge Porn Helpline receives around a fifth of its total calls ear on year from people experiencing such threats.

Lord Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions said:

‘Protection from image-based abuse currently only exists if intimate images or films are actually shared. But this is wholly inadequate and leaves women and girls vulnerable to threats that cause enormous damage and distress. Police and prosecutors can only protect women and girls if the law allows them to do so.

This small change to the law would enable the criminal justice system to offer the protection that women who are experiencing these threats need. The government has shown that it takes image-based abuse seriously, by making the sharing of images a crime in 2015 – but laws must be fit for purpose and they must evolve and reflect reality. It is critical that women and girls should be protected from this cruel behaviour and this legal change can do that – but we should act now.’

Baroness Morgan, former Minister for Women and Equalities and former Secretary of State for DCMS said:

‘I know from my time as Minister for Women just how devastating image-based abuse can be – but also how we must ensure legislation responds to the realities women face. As so much of our lives are now lived digitally, we know that technology can also be used to facilitate harm and abuse. This swift and simple change in the law will help protect millions of women. I know the commitment across government to make this change is there – but we must act now. The Domestic Abuse Bill is the perfect legislative vehicle by which to do this. Women simply cannot wait and as politicians, it is our duty to stand up and say so.’

Ellie Butt, head of policy and public affairs at Refuge said:  

‘’It is vital that the law keeps up to date with the ways in which perpetrators use technology as part of a pattern of domestic abuse. We need to take this opportunity that the Domestic Abuse Bill provides, to make threatening to share intimate images a crime. We are hopeful that the government will seize this opportunity and act fast.  This could make a real difference to the thousands of women Refuge supports every day who are experiencing abuse via technology. They themselves know best what is needed – a law change that will help provide better protection. The time to change the law is now.’

Sophie Mortimer, Helpline Manager at The Revenge Porn Helpline said:

‘We receive thousands of calls every year from people experiencing intimate image abuse – a devastating form of abuse. While revenge porn is rightly illegal, we are seeing large numbers of women coming forward asking for help who are being threatened with their intimate images being shared. A fifth of our calls over the past two years have been from people concerned about threats to share. Between 2017 and 2020 the number of calls on this issue more than tripled and rose by 73% between 2019 and 2020 alone We cannot ignore these statistics. The law is out of date and does not help the increasing number of women who are contacting us about these threats. If we are really going to transform the response to domestic abuse, we must make threatening to share intimate images a crime. The Bill is a simple and swift way to do this.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Numbers of calls received by the Revenge Porn Helpline about threats to share –  note these EXCLUDE calls about sextortion.

2017: 162
2018: 195
2019: 296
2020: 513

Supporters can join Refuge’s campaign to end the Naked Threat here.

Refuge supports more than 7,000 women and children on any given day, and runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is the gateway to accessing specialist support across the country. More than one in four women in England and Wales experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner. With a sharp rise in women seeking support during lockdown, and as the country is moved into a third lockdown the need to address the response to domestic abuse has never been greater.

Please signpost to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm Monday to Friday). For real time automated guidance on how to secure your personal devices Refuge has a Tech Safety Tool at www.refuge.org.uk.