Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by Dr. Craig A. Harper and Dr. Dean Fido, lecturers in forensic psychology at UK Universities (University of Derby; Nottingham Trent University) (DAB91)

To whom it may concern,

Re: Call for written evidence: Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21

1. The written evidence featured below has been written and approved by both authors. Dr. Craig A. Harper and I (Dr. Dean Fido) are lecturers in forensic psychology at UK Universities (University of Derby; Nottingham Trent University). Although our knowledge covers several areas of criminal behaviour and victimology, we restrict the evidence presented within this document to our core area of expertise – that of image-based sexual abuse.

2. Before proceeding, it is essential to tease apart the above term so that yourself and others can access the importance of the evidence we are providing here. When describing image-based sexual abuse (henceforth abbreviated to IBSA), we are referring to a series of behaviours which involve the non-consensual generation, taking, and/or distribution (or threat thereof) of private sexual images. This phrasing has been most widely used by Clare McGlynn (Durham Law School) and her colleagues (e.g., McGlynn, Rackley, & Houghton, 2017). Although this over-arching label is useful for the categorisation of behaviours in law, our recent work in this field has begun to delineate the wide array of behaviours that fall under this umbrella term (Harper, Fido, & Petronzi, 2019).

3. Behaviours that encompass IBSA include ‘revenge pornography’ (the non-consensual sharing of private sexual images of others), upskirting (the non-consensual taking of a private sexual underneath the clothes of another individual), cyber-flashing (the non-consensual sending of an image of oneself to another individual), and deepfake pornography (the creation of pornographic material through the superimposition of a victim’s features into an existing pornographic scene). Although IBSA is in a catch-all fashion, this often discounts the potential for differences in the motivations of those who perpetrate such behaviours. Our core argument is that these behaviours are demonstrably sexual offences (owing to their overlaps with existing models of sexual offending, and the inherently sexual nature of the behaviours), but that they should be treated separately in order for us to better understand, predict, and resolve (Harper et al., 2019).

4. There is a range of evidence suggesting that IBSA can stem from breakdowns in intimate relationships. For example, the most-studied form of IBSA – ‘revenge pornography’ – is associated with past partners seeking vengeance to actual or perceived wrongs, or as a way for perpetrators to maintain control of the victim of a previously coercive relationship (Hall & Hearn, 2018). It has been noted by McGlynn and colleagues that the prevalence of upskirting-type behaviours in online pornography may begin to fuel an increased incidence of such behaviour offline (McGlynn, 2018), with intimate partners being a potential target for such behaviours due to their proximity to those with a proclivity to upskirt. In the case of cyber-flashing, the sending of explicit sexual images between people (‘sexting’) can begin as a consensual activity as a relationship begins to form, particularly for young people who are more often using technology in this way (Dake, James, Price, Maziarz, & Ward, 2012; Lippman & Campbell, 2014), but may become coercive and abusive over time if one member of the relationship no longer wishes to engage (Drouin, Ross, & Tobin, 2015). For these reasons, we believe that some consideration of IBSA is necessary within the Domestic Abuse Bill (March 2020) and consistent with its aims.

5. The impact of IBSA on victims is profound. Effects are observable at the psychological level, whereby victims commonly suffer from anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation as a result of their experiences (Dahl, 2013) , and at a social level, where they risk losing jobs, experience the breakdown of family and social structures, and become vulnerable to further harassment, both online and in real life ( Lichter , 2013). Even the threat of having private sexual images shared to friends, family, and work colleagues, can lead to coercion within a domestic relationship (Lippman & Campbell, 2012) . Importantly, due to the advent of artificial intelligence programs which allow for the generation of fake, yet life-like sexual images (i.e., deepfaking ) and acts of taking non-consensual sexual images without the awareness of the victim (i.e., upskirting), such threats and acts of IBSA can be made without real, consensually-generated images of videos to have been made or shared in the first instance.

6. In general, from reading the Domestic Abuse Bill (March 2020), we are in agreement with and support much of the hard work which has clearly gone into making this document. We applaud the great impact that it will likely have on the lives and experiences of the victims of coercive and abusive relationships. Our take-home message from this evidence, however, is that mechanisms need to be placed, either through campaigns or education provision, to instil understanding that coercion in the form of IBSA represents a new and emerging context within which domestic abuse occurs.

7. Due to this offence type being relatively new in both our social psychological understanding and also our legislation safeguarding against it (e.g., upskirting legislation was only affirmed last year), it is vital that we educate the UK public as to the warning signs and markers of such victimisation. Below, we respond to some of the more specific considerations within the report.

8. Education Provision

Regarding responses to under 16s who perpetrate domestic abuse, we particularly urge that both in and out of a domestic relationship, children are taught the dangers of perpetrating IBSA offences – especially if their victims are under the age of 18 years. Not only because such actions will result in great impact for the victims on a social and educational level (e.g., likely impacting their studies), but in that such offences would, in many cases lead to the generation, possession, and distribution of indecent photographs of children. This early intervention is of particular importance when considering the early engagement with self-produced sexual imagery among adolescents, and the potential risks of victimisation that emerge as a result of this behaviour (Dake et al., 2012; Lippman & Campbell, 2014).

9. From our experience in talking to education providers and teachers, this is a factor which is frequently not considered when educating children of such offences (if education happens at all). As such, we would urge such knowledge exchange to be undertaken at both a parental and school level – pilot workshops of which we (alongside Lecturer in Education Provision, Dr. Dominic Petronzi, University of Derby) are currently undertaking. Such provisions involve working alongside key stakeholders in education (i.e., parents, teachers, and students) and using written and visual media to better inform them on developments in key legislation pertaining to IBSA as well as the risks and potential outcomes of engaging in such behaviour.

10. Cross Examination

We applaud such considerations of the prohibition of cross-examination of victims within the Bill. However, the Bill could go further by considering the contexts within which IBSA take place, and add to social discussions about the threats that are inherent when disseminating private sexual images. Here, we highlight the importance of the fact that IBSA offences are designated as such because of the non-consensual distribution of the image, rather than the existence of the image (with the exception of upskirting and deepfake cases, where the creation of the material is the offence in-and-of-itself). With this in mind, prior consent for an individual to take or possess private sexual images does not extend to their future use. That is, the granting of consent to possess a sexual image within a functional and consensual relationship does not extend to the consent to distribute or otherwise share such material upon the dissolution of the relationship (or under any other circumstances).

11. Moreover, we make clear that the initial generation of private sexual images should not be a reflection on the character of the victim in any way, with such acts of ‘sexting’ often being a reflection of healthy relationship formation and maintenance in the modern world. There are parallels in this argument to the extant literature on victim blaming as it pertains to responses to traditional sexual offending. Just as we promote the view that the attire or previous sexual history of a victim of rape plays no role in their culpability for victimisation, we should also promote the argument that previous sexting behaviours within consensual relationship contexts does not increase culpability in IBSA cases. That is not to downplay situational prevention strategies (just as remaining in groups appears to be protective against opportunistic sexual assault offline, the availability of sexual images does increase the possibility that IBSA offences may take place). The correct place for this to be addressed is in educational contexts – not the courtroom.

12. We hope that this evidence has been useful. Please contact us directly if you have any questions regarding this written evidence. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kind Regards

Dean Fido Craig. A. Harper

Dr. Dean Fido (University of Derby) Dr. Craig. A. Harper (Nottingham Trent University)

June 2020

References

Dakem J. A. , Price, J. H., Maziarz , L., & Ward, B. (2012).   Prevalence and Correlates of Sexting Behavior in Adolescents. American Journal of Sexuality Education,   7 (1),   1-15 .

Dahl, J. (2013). "Revenge porn" law in California a good first step, but flawed, experts say. CBS News . Retrieved from: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/revenge-porn-law-in-california-a-good-first-step-but-flawed-experts-say/

Drouin, M., Ross, J., & Tobin, E. (2015). Sexting: A new, digital vehicle for intimate partner aggression? Computers in Human Behavior , 50 , 197–204.

Hall, M., & Hearn, J. (2018). Revenge pornography: Gender, sexualities and motivations . Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Harper, C. A., Fido, D., & Petronzi , D. (2019, June 12). Delineating non-consensual sexual image offending: Towards an empirical approach. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/vpydn .

Litcher , S. (2013). Unwanted exposure: Civil and criminal liability for revenge porn hosts and posters. JOLT Digest: Harvard Journal of Law and Technology . Retrieved from: https://jolt.law.harvard.edu/digest/proivacy/unwanted-exposure-vicil-and-criminal-liability-for-revenge-porn-hosts-and-posters.

McGlynn, C. (2018). ‘Revenge porn’ and upskirting remind us sexual offending is not about sexual arousal . Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/revenge-porn-and-why-sexual-offending-is-not-about_uk_5b45c9e7e4b00db1492ffe9f.

McGlynn, C., Rackley, E., & Houghton, R. (2017). Beyond ‘revenge porn’: The continuum of image-based sexual abuse. Feminist Legal Studies, 25 , 25-46.

Lippman, J. R. & Campbell, S. W. (2014). Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't…If You're a Girl: Relational and Normative Contexts of Adolescent Sexting in the United States.  Journal of Children and Media, 8 (4), 371-386 .

 

Prepared 18th June 2020