Nearly two in five revenge porn cases dropped by Humberside victims after suspect identified

Nearly two in five revenge porn cases reported to Humberside police are dropped by victims despite a suspect being identified, figures reveal.

 PICTURE POSED BY MODEL
Undated photo of a man looking at a mobile phone. Clarification is needed on the law around "revenge porn" and when it could lead to a prosecution, a committee of peers has said.
PICTURE POSED BY MODEL Undated photo of a man looking at a mobile phone. Clarification is needed on the law around "revenge porn" and when it could lead to a prosecution, a committee of peers has said.

Nearly two in five revenge porn cases reported to Humberside police are dropped by victims despite a suspect being identified, figures reveal.

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 nationally, charities say.

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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.

Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request by RADAR reveal Humberside Police recorded 656 revenge porn crimes between April 2015 and the end of 2021.

Of those, at least 246 (37.5%) were closed because the alleged victim did not support further police action despite a suspect being identified.

A further 24 (3.7%) with no clear suspect were also dropped by victims, meaning at least 41.2% saw complainants withdraw their support for investigation over nearly seven years.

Data from the 38 police forces in England and Wales which responded to the request shows at least 30% of crimes have been dropped by victims nationally since 2015 despite a suspect being identified.

Refuge CEO 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 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 impacting their confidence to report crimes committed against them.

Nationally, only around 6% of revenge porn crimes resulted in a suspect being charged or summoned to court between 2015 and 2021 – in Humberside, the figure was at least 7%.

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 in 2019 at Humberside Police, when they recorded 138 offences. In 2021, the force logged 106 revenge porn crimes.

Across England and Wales, at least 28,201 offences were recorded between 2015 and 2021 – though data for five forces did not cover the whole period.

Some 7,357 offences were recorded by the 38 forces last year – 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."