My Lords, Amendment 162 is in my name and the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, Lady Crawley and Lady Grey-Thompson. I thank them, and the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, for their support. I am grateful to all noble Lords who indicated their support to me for this change in the law. I also thank Ministers in both Houses for their constructive engagement on this matter so far and, in particular, the Secretary of State for Justice, who was himself involved in securing the change to the law in 2015 to criminalise the sharing of intimate images, otherwise known as “revenge porn”.
As I said on Second Reading, more and more of us are using technology and living our lives online, and never more so than in the last 12 months. I want to thank the charity Refuge which, with its Naked Threat campaign, has a specific tech abuse team. It launched its campaign because one of the abuses reported to them in more and more cases was the making of threats to share intimate images. Even before the pandemic, 72% of women accessing Refuge’s services said they had been subjected to technology-facilitated abuse. Most often, these images had been taken in the course of a relationship, and the majority of women who had been threatened in this way had been threatened by a current or former partner. That is why I would argue that this Bill is the right place for this House to recognise and criminalise these threats.
At its core, this is an issue about the exercise of control by one person—the abuser, the maker of the threats—over another. Too often, the threats are followed by physical abuse. If anyone should doubt the prevalence, the research conducted by Refuge as part of its campaign found that one in 14 adults in England and Wales had experienced the threat to share. That is equivalent to around 4.4 million people, and younger women were disproportionately impacted by threats to share, with one in seven having experienced this form of abuse.
What is the impact of the making of such threats? Figures from Refuge show 83% of threatened women said the threats to share their intimate photos or videos impacted their mental health and well-being. About 78% said they changed the way they behaved as a result of the threats. But more worrying is that one in 10 women said the threats had forced them to allow the perpetrator to have contact with their children, and almost one in 10 said they were forced to continue or resume their relationship with the perpetrator and/or tell them where they now were.
I want to pay tribute to those victims who have told their stories and been prepared to come forward. The hour is late, and I do not want to detain the House, because I know there are other noble Lords who want to speak on this amendment, too. But I want to mention one victim who has come forward. Natasha was threatened by her ex-husband. He is now in prison and I am pleased to say she is happily remarried. She said:
“Knowing an abuser has intimate photos feels like you’re being violated. Those images were for his own gratification and a tool to keep me compliant. I had no way of proving my ex had shared these images but the threat of sharing them was equally distressing and compounded my isolation.”
The reason these brave victims and, sadly, millions of others, are not getting the protection they should is that they are too often told that no police action can be taken until the images are actually shared. Of course, the actual sharing of the images might take place, but just as likely, if a partner or ex-partner wants to exercise control over and play havoc with their victim’s life, they will leave the threat hanging out there, often for many years. So the police and everyone else need to know and be clear in their own minds that the making of threats is an offence and should be prosecuted, in the same way as the actual sharing of intimate images was made a crime by this Government under Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. I should also point out that in Scotland, the threat to share is already an offence.
Having said all of this, and hopefully made the case for why the law should be changed, I do not think that there is too great a difference between those of us who support the amendment and my noble friend the Minister on this matter. I believe that the Government accept that there is a gap in the law which needs to be addressed. The real issue is one of timing. As I understand it, the Government would prefer to wait until the Law Commission has published its consultation on image-based abuse overall and then made its recommendations. But we were promised this consultation early this year; I suspect Ministers hoped that it would be published before we reached this stage of the Bill, but we are still waiting, and this is only a consultation. The recommendations to follow and then the change in the law could take several more years.
I do not disagree that a full review of the law on image-based abuse would be welcome, but in the meantime we have a Bill before us which, as I said at Second Reading, provides an opportunity to tackle this abuse now. Ultimately, this amendment would not make it more difficult to eventually extend the law on broader image-based abuse, but approving it now, and including it in the Bill, would protect millions of women and victims of domestic abuse sooner than some indefinite date in the future. I hope the Minister will therefore accept that the time for action against these threats is now. I urge all noble Lords to support this amendment, and I beg to move it.