Blog: The new legislation that will halt the vengeful

Christine McKelvie MSP
Christine McKelvie MSP

Christine McKelvie MSP writes on Scotland’s new revenge porn legislation.

From Monday, July 3, it has been illegal in Scotland to commit acts of revenge porn. If you are thinking “so what?” please think again. The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Bill is now on the statute book.

One male teenager I know was persuaded to give online images of himself to an online contact. Within a few days, he found himself a blackmail victim. These images would go public unless he paid up. Who were these people? He had no idea. They weren’t even in Scotland, so far as he could tell.

Fortunately, he looked to others for help. He explained his horror and fear to his parents and they supported him 100 per cent. I am glad to say that he is now a happy and unthreatened teenager who has had to learn a very painful lesson.

Now that legislation is in force, it is a criminal offence not only to post these images on social media but also to be found guilty of threatening victims with blackmail.

Certainly, this has been my initiative, but the legislation is backed by every party represented in the Scottish Parliament. That is significant and reminds us all that when there are areas where we all have a common view, those can’t be undermined by petty party political point-scoring.

Of course I have real pride and a sense of fulfilment in seeing this Act come on to the statute book. But it’s a law that impacts on people who have found themselves to be victims of abuse and blackmail. Now those people have somewhere to go.

I have been in close contact all the way with various organisations able to see the damage that revenge porn can do. Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland have been involved along with several other voluntary organisations that seek the same outcomes as I do.

After a lot of years of advocating legislation on revenge porn and increasing public awareness of just how deadly it can be, I am so pleased to see it finally in place.

People who are intimate rarely think ahead to a time when their relationship might end or turn nasty. They take pictures or videos of themselves or one another for their own, private entertainment. The idea that they could suddenly be flashed across social media will not occur to them. They don’t think in terms of their own exploitation.

Then the couple break up. Separation can bring out ugly and vengeful emotions, but taking those private pictures and videos and putting them on display across social networking sites requires a particularly malicious and abusive mindset.

And make no mistake, revenge porn is every bit as abusive as any other kind of domestic violence. Freedom of speech, freedom to protest cannot be translated into cyber abuse as some would try to argue. These actions are exploitative and cruel. They ruin lives and cost people their self-respect and sometimes their jobs.

This kind of shaming and humiliation feeds perfectly into the mind of the abuser. “She asked for it.” Trying to force the responsibility on to the victim doesn’t work any more effectively in cyber terms than it does in physical terms.

I hope that having the legislation in place will achieve a number of outcomes: first, that victims have legal protection. Secondly, that people are generally more aware of the possibility of having their private pictures used to demean and humiliate them publicly, and thirdly, that abusers themselves will think twice before they carry out this crime.

  • This article originally appeared in The Herald.

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