BBC 2 Debates New Scots Law on Image-Based Sexual Abuse

The new Scottish law criminalising image-based sexual abuse (including so-called ‘revenge porn’) is in force from 1 April 2017. The BBC 2 current affairs programme Timeline discussed the new law and its possible impacts with Liz Ely of Zero Tolerance Scotland and myself on 30th April. The video below shows the highlights of this item.




Restorative Justice and Sexual Violence in Scotland

As one of a series of dialogues on the role of restorative justice in Scotland, the Scottish Universities Insight Institute organised an event on 22 March 2017 focussing on: Challenging Sexual Violence: Is There a Role for Restorative Justice?

This was an important event examining the options to be considered to help give more victim-survivors a sense of justice. I spoke and shared my research on restorative justice and survivors’ perceptions on what constitutes justice. My presentation was followed by stimulating responses from Katy Mathieson of the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre, sharing some concerns over the use of restorative justice, and Dr Marie Keenan of University College Dublin on her extensive experience of both undertaking and researching restorative practices in these cases.

Shona Craven of the Scottish Centre for Criminal Justice research has written a helpful blog on the discussions during the evening. She writes: ‘“What is justice?” was perhaps the question at the heart of the discussion‘.

‘Revenge Porn’ Is A Form Of Sexual Assault

In a new blog for The Huffington Post, Clare challenges the Government’s refusal to recognise ‘revenge porn’ – better called image-based sexual abuse – as a form of sexual violence.  She argues that the Government’s approach entirely misunderstands the nature of sexual offending, with significant adverse consequences.

Image-based sexual abuse is a sexual offence. The harm comes from the fact that it is sexual images that are shared without consent; the images go viral because they are sexual. Non-sexual images would simply not have the same potency to cause harm; nor would thousands of others distribute these images. Sharing private sexual images without consent exploits an individuals’ sexual identity and infringes their sexual autonomy. The online abuse which accompanies distribution of private sexual images includes sexual threats (rape threats), as well as abusive comments about the victim’s appearance, body, sexuality and sexual agency. New research has shown how all different forms of image-based sexual abuse – including ‘revenge porn’, ‘upskirting’, sexual extortion, sexualised photoshopping – share common characteristics with other forms of sexual offending.

It is vital that it is recognised in law and policy that image-based sexual abuse is indeed a form of sexual violence and that automatic anonymity be granted to all complainants, in the same way as for other sexual crimes. This will help to ensure other victims do not have their names and images shared widely across the media, encouraging more to come forward and report these crimes, or take action in the civil courts as Mischa has done.

Full blog available here.

Policing Domestic Abuse: Restorative Justice and ‘Out of Court’ Resolutions

policing-domestic-abuse-front-page-imageDo the police use restorative justice in cases of domestic abuse? Including for intimate partner abuse? What about community resolutions – are they also used? If they are, isn’t this contrary to official College of Policing guidance?

Read our Research Briefing on Policing Domestic Abuse and ‘Out of Court’ Resolutions

These are some of the questions my colleagues Nicole Westmarland, Kelly Johnson and I ask in our research which – for the first time – investigates the extent to which the police are using restorative justice and community resolutions – what we call ‘out of court resolutions’ in cases of domestic abuse. This research has now been published in the prestigious British Journal of Criminology and is available free to download here.

What did we find? We found that in stark contrast to official police guidance, every police force in the UK – except Scotland – used ‘out of court resolutions’ to respond to over 5,000 domestic abuse incidents (including intimate partner abuse) in 2014. Some of these incidents related to offences with sentencing tariffs of up to life imprisonment. Such widespread use of community resolutions and restorative justice – what we are calling out of court resolutions – has been taking place under the radar and contrary to best practice.

What re the implications of our research? Our research findings have immediate implications for policy and practice: first and foremost, the police must stop using these street-level resolutions in cases of domestic abuse and College of Policing and National Police Chief Council guidance needs to be strengthened. We need an open and informed public debate about the role of restorative justice and other alternatives to the criminal justice system for cases domestic abuse.

You can read the full research article which is available for free here.

Under the Radar: the widespread use of ‘out of court resolutions’ in policing domestic violence and abuse in the UK‘ (2017) British Journal of Criminology



Should Porn be on the School Curriculum?

The Big Questions with Nicky Campbell on BBC One, 5 March 2017

This is the question now being asked following the Government’s announcement that it is to make relationships and sex education compulsory in all English schools. And the answer should be an unequivocal yes.

The bottom line is that if we don’t include education about pornography in the school curriculum, young people will carry on using it as their source of information and understanding about sex and relationships.


I participated in a debate on this topic on the BBC One programme The Big Questions and I’ve blogged on the subject for the HuffPost.

‘All young people deserve to be educated on issues of sexual consent; to have the opportunity to discuss sex, sexual practices and relationships in an open and supportive environment. It is what young people, especially girls, are calling for. Indeed, they must be so educated if we are to begin to see a reduction in sexual harassment and violence.’


New GEM Poll Finds Overwhelming Public Support for Age Limits on Porn Sites

A new ICM poll released today by the Centre for Gender Equal Media (GEM) at Durham University  reveals that an overwhelming majority of the public (86%) agree that pornography websites and social media companies should be legally required to prevent children from accessing online pornography.

Research Briefing on the new poll available here: gem-age-verification-briefing-final

Press release available here: age-verif-poll-press-release-oct-2016-final

Poll supports need for age verification: The poll supports proposals in the Digital Economy Bill being discussed in Parliament today (Thursday) to introduce age-verification measures to ensure that anyone accessing a commercial pornography website in the UK is over the age of18.

The Centre for Gender Equal Media (GEM) at Durham University welcomes the Government’s proposals to prevent children’s access to online commercial pornography due to its adverse impacts on gender inequality and young people.

Dr Fiona Vera-Gray of Durham University and GEM Co-Founder says:

“From my experience working with young people in sexual violence prevention, pornography is repeatedly implicated in restricting young women’s sexual agency, and in pressuring young men to prove their masculinity. We need a comprehensive approach that includes new laws such as current government proposals, alongside compulsory, age-appropriate, sex and relationships education focussing on issues of equality, respect and consent.”

Poll supports blocking non-compliant websites

The poll also found considerable public support (78%) for Government action to ensure that the websites of non-compliant companies are blocked.

Professor Clare McGlynn of Durham University and GEM Co-Founder says:

‘If the Government wishes to restrict children’s access to pornography, the new law must be effective. Blocking non-compliant websites is one way to strengthen the proposals. This new law will, at the very least, limit accidental exposure. It will also send an important message that pornography is not appropriate material for children.’

The Centre for Gender Equal Media is making three key recommendations to tackle the harms of pornography :

  • More effective enforcement mechanisms are required, such as blocking websites that break the law
  • Preventing children’s access to pornography is only part of the solution. Compulsory, age-appropriate sex and relationships education on issues of equality, respect and consent is vital.
  • Action on pornography is placed within the wider context of gender inequality, including inequality for young people, and violence against women and girls.

New CPS Guidelines Follow GEM Centre Recommendation

cps-social_media_consultationThe Crown Prosecution Service has issued new guidelines on prosecuting cases involving social media which no longer use the term ‘revenge porn’, following the recommendation made during the consultation by the Centre for Gender Equal Media. The GEM Centre argued that the term ‘revenge pornography’ refers only to one, albeit pernicious, form of abuse and it also unduly focuses on the perceived actions of the victim (producing ‘porn’), rather than on the perpetrator who shared images without consent.

This consultation response is based on the work I have done with Erika Rackley on image-based sexual abuse: a term that better describes the nature and harm of these forms of abuse, including what is known as ‘revenge porn’.

The response to the consultation from the Centre for Gender Equal Media is available here: