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Intimate Sexual Images: Distribution

Volume 643: debated on Thursday 28 June 2018

9. What steps her Department is taking to ensure the effectiveness of legislation on the distribution of intimate sexual images without permission. (906121)

It is a pleasure that the first question that I will answer from this Dispatch Box is from my right hon. Friend, who has done so much to highlight and drive progress on these issues as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee and throughout her time as a Member of this House.

The sharing of intimate images in this manner is a terrible abuse of trust that can leave victims feeling humiliated, degraded and betrayed. That is why we created—in section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015—a new offence that criminalised the disclosure of private sexual photographs and films without the consent of an individual who appears in them, and with the intent to cause that individual distress. I am glad that people are being successfully prosecuted under this new offence, which carries a maximum sentence of two years behind bars, although there is always more that can be done.

I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position in the first of what I am sure will be very many opportunities to answer questions at the Dispatch Box.

When this Government made it a crime to post intimate sexual images online without consent, the then Minister said that the matter would be kept under review, particularly the calls from across the House to make it a sex offence so that victims could have anonymity. We now know that one in three victims will not take forward cases because of concerns about the impact on their lives, so will the Minister, in his new position, take another look at the issue and see whether we can do more to ensure that online sex-related crimes have the same standing as those committed offline?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight these issues. A range of factors can cause victims not to support charges; these include the legal and court process, the length of time the process takes and aspects such as anonymity, which my right hon. Friend mentioned. Although charging is a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, and we have no immediate plans to review the rules around anonymity, we are committed to supporting all victims of crime and to improving processes where possible. We remain committed to bringing forward a victims strategy this summer, in which we will look at these factors and broader issues.

Before I ask my question, may I just correct the record? It was, in fact, a Labour Government who reduced the tax on menstruation products in 2001 to the lowest allowed, which was 5%.

I concur with the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and welcome the Minister to his new position. As we have heard, one in three cases is dropped, so would it not be better for victims and society if we made image-based sex crimes—commonly known as revenge porn—a sexual offence, so that victims can be given anonymity, just as victims will be given anonymity under provisions of the upskirting Bill?

I am grateful for the shadow Minister’s kind words. I look forward to exchanging pleasant words with her across the Dispatch Box on many future occasions. She is right to highlight the importance of the issue. As I have said, we are committed to supporting and protecting victims. The opportunity currently exists for any victim—and, similarly, for witnesses—to apply for reporting restrictions to help them give evidence. Although we are not at this stage committing to review the rules around anonymity, we do of course continue to look at this matter. All factors will be considered as we move forward with this important legislation.