Third of revenge porn cases dropped by victims

Facing a ‘potentially bruising’ criminal justice process without the guarantee of anonymity is one reason, say charities.

Katie Williams
Monday 16 May 2022 17:43
A generic stock photo of a woman using a mobile phone in central London.
A generic stock photo of a woman using a mobile phone in central London.

More than a third of revenge porn cases are dropped by victims despite a suspect being identified, figures show.

Facing a “potentially bruising” criminal justice process without the guarantee of anonymity, and lack of trust in police, are among the reasons for high victim dropout rates across England and Wales, charities say.

The offence of disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress – so-called “revenge porn” – came into force in April 2015 and carries a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment in England and Wales.

It was extended in June 2021 to include threats to share intimate images, following months of campaigning spearheaded by domestic abuse charity Refuge.

Victims of intimate image abuse are feeling incredibly exposed, violated and humiliated and the prospect of a potentially bruising criminal justice process that may drag on for months just isn’t acceptable

Figures obtained from 38 territorial police forces through a Freedom of Information request by RADAR reveal at least 28,201 offences were recorded between April 2015 and the end of 2021.

Some 10,044 (35.6%) of these were closed because the alleged victim did not support further police action despite a suspect being identified.

A further 1,717 (6.1%) with no clear suspect were also dropped by victims, meaning at least 41.7% saw complainants withdraw their support for investigation over nearly seven years.

Forces were asked to provide the number of revenge porn crimes reported between 2015 and 2021, the age and gender of victims, as well as certain crime outcomes. Data from five forces did not cover the whole period.

Refuge chief executive Ruth Davison said survivors of the crime, who are overwhelmingly women, may decide not to support further police action for many reasons.

“It’s very rare for the threat or sharing of intimate images to happen in isolation without other forms of domestic abuse,” she said.

“Our Naked Threat research found that 72% of women who have experienced threats to share were threatened by a current or former partner – and for the vast majority of these women, this isn’t the only way they are abused.”

Ms Davison said many victims will be under pressure from perpetrators not to support police action for fear of what they will do to them.

She added that women’s trust in the police is “at rock bottom” and is impacting their confidence to report crimes committed against them.

Only around 6.2% of revenge porn crimes resulted in a suspect being charged or summoned to court between 2015 and 2021 – though figures relate to outcomes at the time of the FOI response and some cases may still be under investigation.

Sophie Mortimer, manager of the Revenge Porn Helpline, a dedicated service helping adult victims, said another key reason behind victims dropping revenge porn cases is that their anonymity is not guaranteed, unlike with reports of sexual offences.

She said: “Although media outlets rarely name victims, the possibility of being outed in their local communities is too much to contemplate.

“Victims of intimate image abuse are feeling incredibly exposed, violated and humiliated and the prospect of a potentially bruising criminal justice process that may drag on for months just isn’t acceptable.”

Revenge porn crimes peaked last year, when the 38 forces recorded 7,357 offences – a 39% jump from 5,291 in 2020.

But these figures “do not scratch the surface” of the true prevalence of the crime, according to Refuge and the Revenge Porn Helpline, who say only a fraction of victims report their experiences to police.

“There are many barriers that women face when it comes to reporting abuse, ranging from fear of being judged to mistrust in the police,” Ms Davison said.

Deputy Chief Constable Ian Critchley, lead for child protection at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “Police take the disclosure of private or intimate images – sometimes referred to as ‘revenge porn’ – very seriously.

“We will pursue all lines of inquiry and prosecute people wherever appropriate.

“We recognise that going through the criminal justice system can be very stressful for victims, leading to some victims withdrawing from the process.

“We are working closely with partners throughout the system to ensure that victims have the confidence to report crimes and that they receive appropriate support at every stage.”

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