‘Revenge porn’ and why it’s against the law

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Q: Someone told me it would be a criminal offence if I showed photographs of my ex-wife to a friend. How is that right – they are my photos and she let me take them when we were together?

A: I assume you are talking about the new law that came into force on April 13, 2015, making it a criminal offence to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress.

This has commonly been referred to as “revenge porn”.

It can cover a range of actions but frequently involves an individual – often a partner or ex-partner – uploading intimate images of the victim to the internet/social media or e-mailing them so as to cause the victim humiliation or embarrassment.

It often – but not necessarily – happens in the context of abusive or controlling domestic relationships or following the breakdown of a relationship.

The new law came in after concerns raised by various bodies about the increased number of such incidents and a government consultation.

The offence it creates is serious, with the possibility of a two-year prison sentence.

It requires the disclosure to have been without the victim’s consent and to have been done with the intention of causing them distress.

There are also specific definitions of terms used including disclose, private, sexual, photograph.

Some may criticise the law as being unnecessary or interfering too much with private relationships and freedom of expression or that it could prevent the publishing of material that should be allowed in the public interest.

Most laws are to some extent a balancing act of the rights and freedoms of individuals and the public interest in appropriate circumstances of allowing the state to regulate behaviour and/or intervene where it is necessary to provide protection to others.

Here the law is designed to prevent the deliberate and intentional causing of distress to people by the publishing of photographs of an intimate nature that often will have been taken in a completely different context or possibly without the person’s knowledge or consent.

There are also defences available in some specific circumstances.

It is also an example of the criminal law developing to reflect changes in society and technological developments.

This law seeks to address problems that have increased with the increased accessibility of portable photographic equipment and the widespread and more sophisticated use of social media and the internet.

There have been other recent developments in the law recently specifically dealing with issues arising out of use of social media and the internet as well as a number of relatively high-profile cases.