The recent case of a stalking victim whose harasser took control of her online life has sparked expert lawyers to warn of new dangers and call for more robust legislation.
Cody Russell, from Torquay, was jailed for three years and four months after taking control of his ex-partner’s digital existence and sending explicit clips of her to her boss and family members.
The 22-year-old’s actions caused his victim to lose two jobs and led to so much suffering she had to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act after he gained control of her bank account, mobile and social media accounts.
Family lawyers along with expert IT lawyers have come together to warn that the damage caused by this new digital threat to stalking and domestic abuse victims is evolving and say the law should reflect the seriousness of the offence.
Susan Hall, a partner and IT law specialist at national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP, said: “It is heartening to see this young man convicted and given a decent sentence for his actions in impersonating his victim online and partaking in so called ‘Revenge Porn’.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing this kind of digital abuse happening more and more often and the devastating impact it has on a victim’s personal and professional life as well as their mental health is unconscionable.
“While the law has been updated to reflect changes in stalkers’ behaviours, including the inclusion of monitoring a person online and publishing material online purporting to be from someone else, it is a constantly evolving area and the law needs to keep up with the increasingly sophisticated way abusers are controlling and hurting their victims.
“As this issue grows there needs to be more useful representative examples and further CPS guidance as well as a more joined up approach to cyber crime.”
Susan points out that although this particular offender was arrested for several offences, before 2015 there would have been no sanction for sending explicit photos and before before 2012 there was no offence of stalking.”
In this case Russell was warned by the police and arrested but repeatedly continued to stalk his victim as soon as he was released.
Chris Longbottom, a partner and head of the family law team also at Clarke Willmott LLP, says there are ways people can protect themselves using the law.
“When it comes to injunctions, there are two orders the Court can grant,” said Chris. “The first is a non-molestation order which aims to protect individuals from injury, intimidation and pestering and can also be extended to cover social media and digital harassment. It also prevents abusers from using a third party to act on behalf of the abuser.
“The second is an occupation order which means the abuser cannot come within a set distance of the accuser. This order is far more effective with physical abusers, which traditionally is what we saw much more of.
“The definition of abuse has now widened and the term domestic abuse covers everything from physical and sexual abuse to digital abuse and controlling and coercive behaviour.
“A person must go to Court to obtain an order and provide evidence that they feel at threat of serious harm, whether that be physical or mental.
“I would always advise people to go to the Police in the first instance but, the non-molestation order in particular, is very useful in these types of online harassment cases.
“We have seen an increase and an evolvement in this behaviour into more complex digital harm and the impact is undeniable, it can affect every aspect of a person’s life. More robust legislation would certainly help and would also deter any false accusations, which can undermine real victims of this abuse.”
Clarke Willmott is a national law firm with offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Southampton and Taunton.
For more information please visit www.clarkewillmott.com