My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for putting down this amendment, which I strongly support.
One way to judge the gravity of a crime is to assess the anguish it brings to its victims. Usually, this emotional suffering comes as a by-product of, say, physical harm or financial loss. However, sometimes the creation of anguish is deliberate, the whole point of the crime, and a source of great satisfaction to the criminal. It is perhaps no surprise that our courts have reserved special condemnation for those responsible for this sort of behaviour. In 2015, amid mounting evidence of a growing problem, the Government decided to tackle the ugly phenomenon of so-called revenge porn: the sadistic online dissemination without consent of sexually explicit photos and videos, usually of young women, and usually by disgruntled former boyfriends. Ministers recognised that this behaviour is particularly nasty because it targets the most private and personal aspects of life, exploiting intimacy to create ridicule, contempt and public shame. Indeed, each of these emotions is precisely what is intended by the perpetrator, particularly the public shaming. This conduct was thus made a crime that could lead straight to prison.
However, it is now clear that the present law does not go far enough, for what about threats to share intimate images? As your Lordships have been told, at present, these attract no criminal sanction at all, although the evidence shows that significant numbers of women and girls face this menacing behaviour.
Much has been said in this debate about the survey carried out by Refuge, the country’s largest provider of domestic abuse services. That is not surprising when the results of this survey appear to show that as many as one in seven young women in England and Wales have faced these threats.
These figures portray a world of anxiety and dread. Because most of these threats come from current or former partners, they also speak of deliberate schemes of domination and control that we should acknowledge for what they are: straightforward examples of domestic abuse. Like all crimes in this category, they gift a gratifying sense of power to the abuser, who is intent on using this power to signal the victim’s utter lack of worth.
Amendment 162 provides the opportunity to change the law to criminalise this behaviour, granting thousands of women and girls access to justice and protection—the first duty of the law. At present the Government prefer to push this issue off into the future, awaiting a Law Commission review into all forms of image-based abuse. But for all the reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, people subjected right now to this behaviour should not have to wait. I hope the Government will accept what is widely acknowledged: that this is a gap in the law and the Government’s duty is to plug it without delay.