Refuge publishes data showing charging rates remain woefully low on intimate image abuse
Refuge publishes data showing despite increased reports to the police, charging rates remain woefully low on intimate image abuse known as so-called ‘revenge porn’.
- A total of 13,860 intimate image offences across 24 police forces were recorded between 1st January 2019 and 31st July 2022.
- In just 4% of all offences recorded across the 24 police forces from January 2019 to July 2022, was the alleged offender charged or summonsed.
- 22% of recorded offences resulted in no further action due to ‘evidential difficulties’.
- Full analysis can be viewed here
New data published by domestic abuse charity Refuge, obtained via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to police forces in England and Wales shows a steady increase in the number of intimate image offences recorded from year to year.
Refuge issued freedom of information (FOI) requests to 43 police forces in England and Wales, in July 2022 and received responses from 29 forces, 24 of which were complete and could therefore be included in our analysis.
There were 26% more offences recorded in 2020 than in 2019, and a 40% increase between 2020 and 2021. In the first six months of 2022, more offences were recorded than in all of 2020.
Intimate image abuse, also known as so-called ‘revenge porn’ whereby perpetrators share or threaten to share intimate or sexual photographs or videos of a survivor, without their consent, to inflict emotional distress on survivors, is a tool of coercive control. The act of sharing or threatening to share intimate images on the internet, or with a survivor’s family, friends, colleagues, or new partner has a devastating impact on women’s mental health and physical safety and often leads to social isolation and economic harm.
Whilst sharing intimate images without consent has been a crime since 2015, threatening to share intimate images without consent only became a crime in 2021 following Refuge’s successful ‘The Naked Threat’ campaign.
The increased reporting of intimate image abuse could be due to the expansion of this offence in criminal law and increased public awareness of this crime encouraging more survivors to report to the police.
However, whilst it is a positive sign that more survivors appear to be coming forward to report these crimes, the number of people being prosecuted is extremely low, and Refuge is still hearing from survivors that intimate image offences, including threats to share, are not being taken seriously by the Police.
Ruth Davison, Refuge CEO said:
“Our frontline staff report that whilst public awareness around intimate image abuse has risen, and women are more informed about the criminal nature of these threats, by and large police officers don’t seem to be aware of the change to the law and are still turning women away because their abuser hasn’t shared the image in question. Police must take threats to share intimate images seriously, we know that this is a crime that causes significant harms, affecting women’s mental health and wellbeing.
We hear from survivors that there is a pervasive culture of victim-blaming around intimate image abuse in the police, with women being blamed for sharing an intimate image with their perpetrator.
Police forces must receive robust and consistent training to ensure their officers are up to date with the law and are confident in identifying intimate image offences and gathering evidence to support prosecutions. Officers need to know how to respond to and support survivors appropriately so that survivors aren’t forced to drop out of the criminal justice process.
Despite sharing insight from our services and survivors with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, it is disappointing that eighteen months since the offence was expanded Refuge has received very little information as to how they plan to monitor and improve the implementation of this offence. Changes to the law will only make a material difference for survivors if they are properly implemented and monitored.”
Zara McDermott, who successfully campaigned for expanding intimate image abuse offences to include threats to share alongside Refuge’s The Naked Threat campaign said:
“I know first-hand how devastating these crimes are, the rise of technology means that these crimes are getting more prolific by the day. Intimate image abuse is a sexual crime, the emotional turmoil has a long lasting, severe and damaging impact.
I’m encouraged to see more people are reporting these crimes, it’s important women are able to feel like they can report, however we must recognise that there is a domino effect, we can’t expect people to feel confident in coming forward to report when charges and convictions are so low.
It’s really important the government are ensuring this new law is being implemented and filtered down to the police on the ground, to know what the changes to the law are and handle these cases with care and confidence, in order to ensure more women are empowered to report and fully supported throughout the process.”
Notes to editors
- Refuge issued freedom of information (FOI) requests to 43 police forces in England and Wales, in July 2022 and received responses from 29 forces, 24 of which were complete and could therefore be included in our analysis.
- Read the full report on the data, including a breakdown by each police force area, here: https://refuge.org.uk/news/intimate-image-abuse-despite-increased-reports-to-the-police-charging-rates-remain-low/
Refuge supports thousands of women and children on any given day, and runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is the gateway to accessing specialist support across the country. More than one in four women in England and Wales experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.
Please signpost to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday). For support with tech abuse visit refugetechsafety.org