Durham University

Research & business

How unwanted sexual images are shattering lives

(1 July 2019)

Imagine if you had a sexual image of yourself shared online without your consent. Sadly, this happens all too often and can be absolutely devastating for the victim.

Not only can this form of sexual abuse shatter someone’s life, but current laws are failing the victims. This is according to a new report by Durham University researchers.

Government action

These laws are too limited and are gambling with people’s lives, argue the researchers. Although they welcome the Government’s plan to review the legislation, they urge them to act now before more people suffer.

The researchers are calling on the UK Government to give automatic anonymity to victim-survivors of all forms of image-based sexual abuse and introduce a comprehensive criminal law sooner rather than later.

Devastating impact

The report reveals the extent of the devastation this type of sexual abuse causes. Victim-survivors experience it as an extreme and intrusive violation that doesn’t ever stop, making them feel totally isolated from family, friends and society as a whole. Many suffer harassment and fear for their safety.

The impact is described by Deborah, a victim-survivor of image-based sexual abuse. She said: “It’s a type of rape, it’s just the digital version, like you’re still being exploited, you’re still being made very vulnerable and it’s still against your will…you’re being raped, it’s just in a different way, it’s just a new version of it.”

Gambling with lives

Despite the introduction of the new law on ‘upskirting’ – the act of secretly taking a picture under a victim’s skirt - many forms of so-called image-based sexual abuse are not yet fully covered by current laws.

Image-based sexual abuse refers to a broad range of abusive behaviours including the taking and/or distribution of nude or sexual images without consent, and threats to do so, which includes so-called ‘revenge porn’, ‘upskirting’, fakeporn, sexual extortion and videos of sexual assaults and rapes.

Find out more

  • Read the full report by Clare McGlynn and Kelly Johnson at Durham University and Erika Rackley at the University of Kent
  • Do you think that image-based sexual abuse is all about revenge? Read more about this myth and others here
  • Watch Professor Clare McGlynn talk about changes needed to the law
  • Find out more info about the work in this area in our Durham Law School
  • Follow Clare McGlynn on Twitter
  • Interested in studying Law? Have a look at our undergraduate and postgraduate opportunities.

Share this story