Revenge porn victims in Wales often feel ‘let down by the law’ as cybercrime slips through the net

Revenge Porn Victims Let Down by the Law as Cybercriminals Up Their Game

From Jeff Bezos to Jennifer Lawrence, there’s no shortage of celebrities who have been affected by the recent upswing in cases of image-based sexual abuse, or ‘revenge porn’ as it’s sometimes known. But how does the publication of intensely private sexual content, usually intended to be viewed by just one person, affect those most at risk who don’t have a team on stand-by to protect their image, and how could criminal law be doing more to help them?

Wales itself has had its share of revenge porn cases, with some crossing into even more dangerous territory. Of the 21 cases of image-based sexual abuse in North Wales police in the 12 months after revenge porn was first made a crime, the youngest target was just 14 years old. Offenders varied from ex-partners to complete strangers, whose motives were murkier and which are often linked to extortion or an extreme form of ‘trolling’ – however no matter how old or young the victim, the harm it inflicts is very real.

Every revenge porn case causes irreparable harm

Speaking as part of a roundtable video series, Folami Prehaye, founder of VOIC and a survivor of revenge porn, disclosed how helpless and distraught her own experiences made her feel. Indeed, researchers Kristen Zaleski and Jessica Klein have likened the symptoms suffered as a result of image-based sexual abuse to those which occur after sexual assault. It’s easy to see why: whether in the digital or ‘real’ world, the loss of control over who has access to one’s body, victim-shaming attitudes and the violence implicit in the crime are all rife.

Cybercriminals are getting more savvy

The Ninth Annual Cost of Cybercrime Study published by Accenture and the Ponemon Institute found that the cost of cybercrime has gone up 72% in the last 5 years, reaching an overall cost of cybercrime 9.85 million in 2018. The UK has seen a 31% increase in cybercrimes year on year, giving us the dubious honour of having the highest growing cybercrime rates across the globe.

Image-based sexual abuse is one of the leading cybercrime strands to develop over this time. In 2018, the Law Commission stated that massive reform is needed to protect those vulnerable across the UK, with the current law massively lacking coherence and denying targets of abuse their basic rights. This can lead to less successful prosecutions, and even lower rates of crimes coming to court than there should be.

With legislation running years behind, cybercriminals continue to advance their skills on a massive scale. A new trend with the mass availability of new software is ‘deepfake’ pornography, an AI-powered crime where a real person’s likeness is used to create a virtual simulation, often in a pornography context. Traditionally only a risk for celebrities, more ‘everyday’ people are starting to find themselves targeted, meaning that criminals no longer even need to find genuine nude images of their targets to commit image-based sexual abuse.

Social media companies need to be more responsible

A large amount of image-based sexual abuse starts, is perpetrated, or is continued via harassment on social media platforms, with Twitter and Facebook among the most likely playgrounds for online trolls and bullies, and Instragram selfies providing fodder for ‘deepfake’ crime. 12 of the Welsh incidents highlighted above were perpetrated on Facebook, with others appearing on Twitter and YouTube, clearly showing how these platforms play a role in cybercrime.

Our current technological and social media revolution can’t continue to be a playground for criminals who can develop their skills faster than the law can keep pace. If we are ever going to see justice for targets who find themselves in the crosshairs of these cybercriminals, the law in both the UK and across the globe needs to change – and fast.

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