Let us consider these words: “When I met my ex, I was a confident 17-year-old woman, but he wore me down until I did not recognise myself any more.” They are the words of a remarkable woman, my constituent Natasha Saunders. I wish to share some of her story with this House today. First, let me say that this Bill has seen this House at its best, working together to increase awareness of domestic abuse and its devastating consequences, to strengthen support for victims and to bring more perpetrators to justice. It will support victims to give evidence in court and it will end that most pernicious of defences, the so-called rough sex defence.
It is a sad indictment of human nature that our work to tackle domestic abuse will never be over. Even as we pass this excellent Bill, which does so much to protect victims, we must look to the next way in which abusers will seek to control and damage their victims. We know all too well that is what they will be doing, which is why I want to speak to new clause 34. It would strengthen revenge pornography laws, making it illegal to threaten to share intimate images of someone without their consent. It is in relation to that that I share Natasha’s story. She said:
“I’d been in a relationship with my ex-husband for six months when he first ordered me to remove my clothes and pose for intimate photos…In the beginning, I thought taking these photos was an act of intimacy, but they were actually being used as…another way to control me…I’d repeatedly tell him that I didn’t feel comfortable taking intimate photos. When I refused, he would taunt me…He would berate me and mock my appearance until I gave in. Posing for these photos made me feel so dirty and worthless, but I was just a teenager and I wanted to make him happy.”
Natasha’s partner threatened to share these photos with her family and friends. She said she felt
“so exposed and ashamed…The threat was always there and as the years went on, it was like I ceased to exist. He made me feel invisible to everyone and if I displeased him in any way, I knew he could use those pictures to ruin my reputation.”
Natasha is a huge inspiration. She has not only survived a horrendous ordeal of abuse and built a new life for herself, but works with Refuge to help other women.
Today, Refuge has published new research that lays bare the scale of the issue. It finds that one in 14 adults in England and Wales have experienced threats to share. That is four and a half million stories like Natasha’s. The Law Commission is in the middle of a review that covers a wider set of offences around the making and sharing of sexual images online, and that is why the provisions in new clause 34 are not in the Bill.
Having spoken to both Ministers taking the Bill through Parliament, I am in no doubt about their commitment to improving the law in this area. I am grateful to them for taking on board our views that the timeframe for that review, due to report in the summer of 2021, is a long time for victims to wait. As a result, the National Police Chiefs’ Council is now working with the College of Policing to issue clearer guidance to officers about the legal tools they currently have to prosecute some threats to share. I hope more victims will have justice as a result. It is important that we have the right laws, fit for the digital age. That is why we should move quickly as soon as the Law Commission reports.
I leave Ministers with this one thought: our response to coronavirus has shown the speed at which we can move if we have to. Would it not be wonderful if that approach was adopted for the Law Commission’s review, and we saw it reporting by the end of this year, instead of next?