Refuge launches ‘The Naked Threat’ campaign

 

Refuge launches ‘The Naked Threat’ campaign, and calls on the Government to make the threat to share intimate images a crime.

As the Government begins the Report stage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, Refuge, the UK’s largest specialist provider of services for survivors of domestic abuse and their children, has launched a campaign with one clear aim: to make threats to share intimate or sexual images or films a crime.

Refuge’s specialist tech abuse team has seen an increase in the number of women reporting threats to share intimate images, providing a unique insight into how this form of abuse is developing, and the barriers survivors face in accessing police support and keeping safe.

Refuge’s ‘The Naked Threat’ campaign – which is backed by the Victims Commissioner and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner – urges the Government to use the Domestic Abuse Bill to make a simple legal change that would make a huge difference to the everyday lives of the women and girls Refuge supports.

A survey commissioned by Refuge found that 1 in 14 adults in England and Wales have experienced threats to share intimate images or videos – equivalent to 4.4 million. Threats to share intimate images are most prevalent amongst young people (aged 18-34), with 1 in 7 young women experiencing such threats.

72% of women who have received threats to share were threatened by a current or ex-partner and 83% of women who experienced the threat from a current or former partner also experienced other forms of abuse. This confirms Refuge’s assertion that threatening to share intimate images must be treated as a domestic abuse issue. The Domestic Abuse Bill gives the Government a legislative vehicle by which to swiftly enact the change to the law that survivors need.

The impact on women experiencing threats to share intimate images is devastating. 83% said it impacted their mental health and emotional wellbeing. More than 1 in 10 women felt suicidal as a result of the threat and 1 in 7 felt more at risk of physical violence. These figures paint a stark picture of the prevalence of this form of abuse women are experiencing, and how threats of this nature are part of a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour.

Ellie Butt, head of policy and public affairs at Refuge, said: ‘Refuge is launching this campaign as the Government heads into the report stage of the Domestic Abuse Bill with a clear ask: the law urgently needs to change and the Bill provides the Government with the perfect opportunity to act quickly and decisively. Sharing an intimate image is already a crime – rightly so – but now the law needs to move with the times and recognise that threats to share these images causes serious harm regardless of whether the threat is then carried out.

The results of our survey are clear – this is a domestic abuse issue impacting millions of women and girls across England and Wales. 85% of respondents to our survey want to see this legislative change, and this cannot be ignored. We hope the Government will hear this call and act quickly.

Refuge stands ready to work with the Government to ensure this change in the law can be enacted without delay, and ensure the Domestic Abuse Bill is as transformative and bold as possible, offering protection from abuse to as many women as possible.’

Natasha Saunders, 31, Refuge survivor said: ‘I’d been in a relationship with my ex-husband for six months when he first ordered me to remove my clothes and pose for intimate photos. In the beginning, I thought taking these photos was an act of intimacy, but they were actually being used as another form of domestic abuse – and as another way to control me.

He would berate me and mock my appearance until I gave in. Posing for these photos made me feel so dirty and worthless, but I was just a teenager and I wanted to make him happy. I never imagined these pictures would become leverage for my abuser’s campaign of isolation and coercive control. The threat of those intimate photos being shared was my worst nightmare – I had no choice but to comply with his continued abuse or face potential shame and humiliation.’

The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, said: ‘A key report – Shattering Lives and Myths written by professor Clare McGlynn and others at Durham Law School – was launched at the Supreme Court last year and sets out the appalling consequences to victims of intimate images being posted without consent on the internet. These images are sometimes sent to the victim’s children, or their parents, or their employer and frequently also posted on porn sites.

Victims speak of not going out and being unable to meet anyone new because they feel sure that everyone has seen their intimate image online. One victim referred to it as ‘like being raped again and again in public. It is an increasingly used, and very potent threat by domestic abusers, especially if their victim threatens to leave. It exerts a terrible grip keeping victims in relationships with perpetrators who are obviously ruthless and cruel.

It is imperative that it is made a criminal offence. The ministers taking the Domestic Abuse Bill through The Commons have shown already that they are listening to well-evidenced suggestion for important amendments and this is an exceptionally important one.’

Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs said: ‘The threat to share an intimate image – so-called ‘revenge porn’ – is an insidious and powerful way that perpetrators of domestic abuse seek to control their victims, and yet the law does not provide the protection that is needed. Threats to share these images play on fear and shame, and can be particularly dangerous where there might be multiple perpetrators or so-called ‘honour-based’ abuse is a factor. What’s more, the advent of new technologies enable perpetrators to make these threats even where such images do not exist, but there is no clear criminal sanction for this behaviour.

I therefore call on the Government to use the Domestic Abuse Bill to criminalise the threat to share intimate images, as well as to extend the coercive and controlling offence to post-separation abuse, both of which would go a long way in better supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse.’

Refuge is asking its supporters to take action here calling on the Government to amend Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 to explicitly outlaw threats to share sexual images or films in England and Wales.

For more information please contact the press office on 0207 395 7731 or email press@refuge.org.uk.

Read the full report.