Hannah Thompson: Criminal way to treat a former lover

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IT made me really ill when I first saw it, I wanted to throw up. My ex-boyfriend had published pictures of me. Private pictures shared with him when we were in a relationship. But he made them public, and put them online after our break-up, with only one motive – to hurt.

This is called revenge porn. Sharing pictures using smartphones is just more common but with it comes this appalling reality. In a different generation it would have been a nasty rumour – just as hurtful – but those rumours fade. The difference today is that uploaded and online can be forever. Seen by your family, your friends, your future employers.

I remember thinking that this must be illegal, I went to the police. When I spoke to them they said there was nothing they could do, existing laws didn’t cover it. All they could do was speak to him on my behalf. It seemed crazy that my ex-boyfriend could set up a fake account using my images and encouraging people to use them as porn and all the police could do was have a word with him.

He repeatedly uploaded pictures of me, I asked him to take them down time and time again. I felt manipulated into retaining some form of continued contact with him to try to stop him re-uploading the images. I became paranoid and checked the site every day to see if the pictures were back up. I was terrified but at that point I felt there was little else I could do.

I refused to back down and accept what had happened. It was time to change the law. The more I looked into this, the more I discovered others who were victims too.

ChildLine says 25 per cent of 13 to 18-year-olds have admitted sending a sexual image of themselves to someone else. I read the stories of 15-year-old Audrie Pott, a girl from the US who committed suicide in 2012. She did so three days after naked pictures of her were shared online. There was also Julia Rebecca from Brazil, who hanged herself in 2013 after an explicit video was made public on the internet. This issue is clearly affecting people the world over, and not just girls.

I read about Holly Jacobs, the American woman who stood up to her bullies and called for change. She founded the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) and led a campaign in the US to bring in new laws. I was inspired.

As awareness is raised, more and more people are coming forward saying they have been affected. Police data shows that out of 149 cases that have been raised in the past two-and-a-half years, only six led to the police taking further action. Horrifically, girls as young as 11 make up some of those who have been in touch with the police. Recently I read that West Midlands Police has reported a doubling of revenge porn cases.

Bringing in a new law will mean that those who suffer this online abuse will know their rights and know how to fight back.

I started my campaign to ban revenge porn but I never thought anyone would listen to me. I was so pleased when the Lib Dems picked it up in the House of Commons. Julian Huppert worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the issue. He worked with peers in the House of Lords to get something down in writing. It was then that Baroness (Olly) Grender got in touch with me and we talked about how we could bring an end to this.

Olly raised it in the Lords. She made sure that the issue was debated and that the Government was made aware and taking the issue seriously.

Last week the coalition Government announced an amendment that will see revenge porn become a crime. It’s too
late for a lot of people who’ve suffered from this, but it will help protect new victims. Nevertheless, I am very pleased that we are on the cusp of making this illegal. It will be amazing when this finally passes. The new law still needs approval from the House of Lords, although increasingly politicians are waking up to the cries for change. I hope that when they debate the issue this week they think of the victims, people like myself, who still suffer because of the lack of legislation.

Once this is made law I hope that we will see the end of revenge porn. I am sure there will still be people who try to use the internet to cause distress to their exes. But with the threat of serious criminal conviction, and the awareness this debate has raised, I hope people will think twice about what they post online.

• Hannah Thompson is a revenge porn campaigner.