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Durham professor takes to BBC Panorama to highlight ‘revenge porn’ legal loophole

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Clare McGlynn, a law professor at the University of Durham who’s a legal expert on online abuse, will appear in tonight’s BBC Panorama highlighting a major legal loophole affecting victims of ‘revenge porn’ and those who share it.

The Panorama investigation has discovered several subreddits – online groups on the Reddit social media platform – with thousands of members dedicated to targeting women all over the UK by trading, selling and sharing private sexual images without consent. These groups operate despite Reddit stating it has banned users from posting, or threatening to post intimate, or sexually explicit images of people without their consent.

In the programme, reporter Monika Plaha speaks to a woman who was contacted by a stranger and told explicit images of her were being shared on the internet, and went to the police. Despite having a written admission of guilt from her ex-partner admitting that he was responsible, he stated “he didn’t mean to hurt or embarrass” her. This phrasing meant that he was beyond the scope of the current law.

McGlynn said in the programme: “At the moment it’s only a criminal offence to trade an image on one of these websites if you’re doing it directly to cause distress to a victim. We know that many men trading these images do not want the victims to even know, so there’s a huge gap in the law. The problem is the law only focuses on the kind of malicious ex-partner sharing an image, the kind of revenge porn and this only covers a small number of cases of intimate image abuse.”

Other experts also told the programme that the current law fails to sufficiently protect women being abused online, and the loophole, which means victims must prove that the person sharing photos is doing so not only without permission, but also to cause distress to the victim, effectively makes sharing non-consensual images perfectly legal.

As part of the investigation, Panorama went undercover to unmask a Reddit user named ‘Zippomad’ who ran a subreddit targeting South Asian women. The subreddit had 20,000 members and had peddled the intimate images of at least 150 different women.

After Panorama exposed him, he deleted his group. He said in a statement to the programme that the group he ran intended to “appreciate South Asian women”. He added that he is deeply embarrassed and ashamed of his actions.

He also said that he did not encourage users to trade or sell nudes and the forum was an opportunity for members to post personal content. He said claims on the forum that he possessed hundreds of images of one woman or personal information were false and made due to peer pressure or for status among other members.

Plaha, who formerly reported from Salford for BBC Breakfast and is currently a regular on BBC Look North, brings Panorama: The Secret World of Trading Nudes to BBC1 and iPlayer at 8pm this evening (Monday August 22).

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