‘We are taking revenge porn seriously’ say South Yorkshire Police

A woman upset by an image posted of her online
A woman upset by an image posted of her online
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A sex abuse campaigner has hit out at new figures which reveal that only two out of 37 cases of ‘revenge porn’ ended in a conviction for the offender in South Yorkshire.

A new law introduced in April 2015 made it illegal for anyone to publish sexual images of another person without their knowledge or consent, a law introduced to stop so-called ‘revenge porn’.

MP Sarah Champion

MP Sarah Champion

But since the law came into effect last year, only two cases in South Yorkshire ended in a conviction and the same amount ended in a caution, a total of four in 37, Freedom of Information figures reveals.

On 13 occasions, the case was dropped after the victim told police not to proceed to court and in another seven cases police decided not to send a case to court due to ‘insufficient evidence’.

No suspect was identified in another five cases – all of which happened in South Yorkshire between April 1, 2014, and January 2016 and involved victims aged between 12 and 51.

Sex abuse campaigner and South Yorkshire MP, for Rotherham, Sarah Champion, said: “That is unbelievable. I am very shocked, because people don’t come forward with allegations unless there are considerable reasons behind it.”

A woman upset by an image of her posted online

A woman upset by an image of her posted online

But Police have refuted claims they are not taking new laws on revenge porn seriously, despite figures which show just two of 37 cases in South Yorkshire were prosecuted.

A new law introduced in April 2015 made it illegal for anyone to publish sexual images of another person without their knowledge or consent, a law introduced to stop so-called ‘revenge porn’.

Ms Champion added: “The kind of cases where it happens tend to be someone who was in a relationship or someone who wants to be in a relationship with someone, and the other doesn’t.

“So then the offended party just wants to humiliate them as much as possible, very deliberately involving family members, work colleagues.

“It tends to follow a pattern of stalker behaviour.

“This is an early warning and will escalate if not dealt with. The fact that only four out of 37 led to something concerns me, because the risk of escalation is quite high.”

She suggested that police training may be inadequate, adding: “Does it represent a misunderstanding of the law?

“For example, after Rotherham it was revealed that police could have used trafficking laws to stop abuse, because trafficking is just a taking a child across the street.

“The police should not be the ones making the decision on whether to prosecute. The evidence should be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service and they should make the decision.

“That concerns me.

“It also concerns me that the police aren’t taking the allegations seriously, which is why it should be going to the CPS. It’s not up to the police to decide.”

She also demanded ‘reassurances’ that police are not putting the responsibility for evidence on the victim, adding: “For example, if you report a rape or a domestic violence case, the default position is doubt, and they ask for proof, whereas if you report your car being stolen, they take it at face value.

“With allegations of rape, only about 15 per cent of victims actually come forward.

“If 37 people have come forward, the actual number may be much higher than that.”

The figures also show that the youngest victim was 12 years old, with another two 14-year-old victims, one 15-year-old victim, four 16-year-old victims and another five teenage victims aged 17 or above, with the age ranging from 20 to 51 in all other reported cases.

But South Yorkshire Police’s Acting Detective Inspector Richard Wallis stressed that officers had been given training on the new laws.

He said: “I would have a decidedly contrary view. Last year we developed a new model of investigating such crimes and developed teams called Safeguarding Adults teams and implemented them in all four key areas; Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster.

“These teams have been trained in these offences.

“In the majority of cases we have identified offenders, they have been arrested and these images have been very swiftly removed and they are dealt with positively.”

He added: “Disclosing private sexual photographs or films with intent to cause distress is treated with the utmost seriousness by South Yorkshire Police. The introduction of this crime was welcomed by the Police, along with our partners and more importantly victims of such vile and abusive acts.

“Crimes of this nature often occur as a result of the breakdown of relationships, and therefore fall within the definition of domestic abuse. This particular form of abuse can cause serious psychological and emotional harm to victims, with negative long term effects.

“Our approach is clear in respect to this type of criminality. We will respond swiftly and positively to all reports made directly to police or through third parties.

“At all times we will work in conjunction with our partner agencies, both inside and outside of the criminal justice system, sharing skills and expertise, in order to effectively bring offenders to justice and crucially support victims of crime.

“On all occasions we will take a victim centred approach, and where sufficient evidence exists we will seek on all occasions to prosecute offenders.

“As the Acting Detective Inspector of a specialist team of officers investigating such crimes, I am encouraged by the fact that 37 incidents have been reported.

“Whilst I recognise only a small percentage have resulted in sanctions being issued against offenders, on many of those 37 occasions victims have simply decided not to support the prosecution of offenders, many of who are often ex-partners.

“Further scrutiny of these reports has revealed that victims have been satisfied with Police action and investigation, and more than not have resulted in images being swiftly removed from social media, evidence secured and preserved and offenders arrested.

“For many victims this action is considered both sufficient and appropriate, fully meeting their needs.

“On all occasions follow-up support has been provided, resulting in positive feedback from victims of crime”.

Asked why police would not continue prosecutions against law breakers even without victim involvement, Det Insp Wallis added: “A lot of victims have been happy with reporting the matter and police taking action with regards to the offenders resulting in the removal of the images.

“They don’t feel that further sanctions against the offender are in their interests, so we conclude the investigation.

“If we feel that there is sufficient evidence, where we feel it’s in the victim’s interests, the public interest and there is sufficient evidence, we would always pursue prosecution.

“I don’t see similarities with Rotherham. The period under review is a chapter in the history of South Yorkshire Police where lessons have been learned and we have implemented practices and developed an approach which is very much victim centred.

“We would always, where there is sufficient evidence, pursue the case with the Crown Prosecution Service.”

n If you have been a victim of revenge porn or know someone who has, call police on 101 or ring Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.