‘Revenge porn’ is not a sexual offence, minister tells Yorkshire victim

Julia Mulligan and Keeley Richards-Shaw with the petition that they are taking to London seen on York station.Pic : Nigel Holland
Julia Mulligan and Keeley Richards-Shaw with the petition that they are taking to London seen on York station.Pic : Nigel Holland
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A Government minister has rejected calls from a Yorkshire victim of ‘revenge porn’ to offer anonymity in future similar cases, after claiming the crime is “not a sexual offence”.

Policing Minister Mike Penning was responding to a campaign by Keeley Richards-Shaw, from Scarborough, calling for a change in the law so victims of revenge porn cannot be named in media reports.

Keeley Richards-Shaw

Keeley Richards-Shaw

Ms Richard-Shaw, a teaching assistant and mother-of-one, had intimate photos taken of her by her ex-boyfriend, who then shared them with his new partner.

Since launching a campaign last year with North Yorkshire crime commissioner Julia Mulligan, their online petition calling for a change of law has been signed by more than 15,000 people.

But their plea was rejected by Mr Penning, who said the current revenge porn offence “strikes the correct balance between criminalising the offending behaviour whilst upholding the general principles on which the justice system operates”.

There is no automatic anonymity for revenge porn victims when their cases go to court, meaning Ms Richards-Shaw’s name featured in national media reports of the case.

Mike Penning

Mike Penning

In Mr Penning’s written reply to Mrs Mulligan, seen by The Yorkshire Post, he says the new offence of revenge porn “is not a sexual offence, that is to say that the mental element of the offence is not a sexual one, it is a malicious one (the intent to cause distress)”.

He said: “The behaviour itself is also not ‘sexual’, although the material disclosed may be sexual in nature, the offences committed requires, for example, no element of sexual contact, sexual intent or sexual gratification.

“Instead it is the disclosure of photographs and/or films without the consent of the person appearing in them. In this way, the offence is more akin to the existing malicious communications offence or to blackmail than it is to a sexual offence.

“Our criminal justice system operates on the principles of openness and transparency and the names and details of witnesses are almost invariably disclosed in court.

Julia Mulligan, police and crime commissioner for North Yorkshire

Julia Mulligan, police and crime commissioner for North Yorkshire

“Automatic anonymity is provided only where absolutely necessary, for example in those cases involving serious sexual offences.

“I realise that the ordeal of having to attend court following the disclosure of intimate photographs can be distressing, but of course there are other types of offence of which this is true, such as blackmail or malicious communications, and yet these do not attract automatic anonymity.”

He invited Mrs Mulligan and Ms Richard-Shaw, whose ex-partner became the first person sentenced under new revenge porn laws for sharing explicit images of her, for face-to-face talks in London.

Ms Richards-Shaw said: “I am as determined as ever. I’ve had massive support from across the country and our campaign to change the law has been backed by more than 15,000 in the few short weeks since it went online.

“How anyone can fail to see revenge porn as a sexual crime is beyond me. And of course the worst thing about it is that is almost always done by someone that is trusted by the victim. For me that makes it a sexual crime and I truly believe that any reasonable person would view it in the same light.”

Mrs Mulligan said: “While I understand the legal points he makes, I think to compare revenge porn with blackmail is to overlook the uniquely intimate nature of the crime.

“Revenge porn is about shaming women primarily and inflicting psychological distress. Ironically, as things stand, the system that aims to brings perpetrators to justice appears to be colluding with them in the harm it causes victims.”