It’s always out there, but gender-based violence is often ignored – especially online.
Violent crimes against women and girls in England and Wales reached a record high last year, and the criminal justice system is struggling to cope with the number of women coming forward with stories of rape, stalking and – a relatively new one, this – online forms of abuse.
Cyber crime is an unfortunate growing trend, comprising forms of cyber-stalking, controlling or coercive behaviour and the disclosure of private sexual images without consent – or, as we all know it, revenge porn.
And new figures from the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) recent Violence Against Women and Girls report show it’s all on the rise.
The annual report from the CPS shows the rise is boosted by the first prosecutions for revenge porn, which was made illegal in 2015. Unfortunately, the 206 prosecutions that were made are likely to only reflect a small part of the issue.
The director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, told exactly this story when her report was published two weeks ago.
Saunders said it was ‘undoubtedly easier’ to commit crimes online.
She told The Guardian:
The use of the internet, social media and other forms of technology to humiliate, control and threaten individuals is rising and it is something that we will possibly see increase further.
It is undoubtedly easier to commit a lot of these crimes online, people do it without thinking, it is more immediate and it is about the reach and ability to communicate to so many more people.
And it’s causing devastation to many women and girl’s lives. Most times, victims of revenge porn either don’t know the photographs have been taken or thought they were taken in a consensual way within an intimate relationship. Then they find they’ve been posted not only to family and friends, but often to colleagues, too.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, Saunders added that such crimes leave strong digital evidence which can be used against perpetrators in court.
She said: “People need to be aware that… they are not anonymous, we can track it down and actually it gives us really strong evidence to take before the courts.”
Unfortunately, we only saw the first effects of how serious revenge porn is in the figures reported by the CPS on September 6th 2016.
Figures obtained from police services in England and Wales show that last year there were 1,784 cases of revenge porn reported to the police.
And Amanda Naylor, who leads the cyber crime department at UK helpline Victim Support, says it’s reasonable to assume that these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg, given that sexual offences on and offline are vastly under-reported.
Speaking to UNILAD, Naylor said:
The impact of revenge porn is far reaching and can be devastating for victims leaving them feeling deeply distressed, humiliated and powerless. Not only is it is a gross violation of privacy and trust, but the material is often sent to people victims know, which can cause further stress and embarrassment.
And it’s not just online violence that is growing, violence against women in general is on the rise – offences, including rape and stalking, rose by almost 10 per cent to 117,568 prosecutions in England and Wales between April 2015 and March 2016, according to new figures.
Crimes against women now make up one in five – or 19 per cent – of all prosecutions. That’s more than any other kind of crime, including fraud and terrorism.
Naylor says that figures from this year’s crime survey showed a total of 1,347,000 women had fallen victim to sexual crimes. But of course it doesn’t only affect women, with a total of 648,000 men falling victim to the same crimes.
The above figures clearly show that the majority of the victims of this type of crime are women, so it is unsurprising that this is also the case when the crime is carried out online. Online crime in general is growing rapidly and sexual crime is no exception.
Violence against women is at epidemic proportions, so how do we fix it?
Well, for one, there has to be an end to a culture of denial, suspicion, and victim-blaming.
How many times have you heard people express sympathy with a man on trial for rape, asking why the victim had had so much to drink or agreed to go back to his hotel room? The same harshness is shown to victims of domestic abuse, who are often criticised for staying with violent partners. And we’re now seeing it with online crimes like revenge porn, with people asking victims why they sent intimate photos in the first place.
If we are to change the dire situation revealed in the annual crime statistics, there first needs to be a dramatic shift in societal attitudes.