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Queen Mary law student advice centre leads way in battle against revenge porn

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Students to tour London secondary schools in bid to educate teenagers about recently legislated criminal offence

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Law students at Queen Mary, University of London have moved to the forefront of advising on the rapidly evolving legal position around revenge porn.

Officials at the law school’s legal advice service have told Legal Cheek that as of the next academic year, it will send students to local schools to raise awareness of the problem among secondary students.

It is the latest move in the advice centre’s bid to make a concerted push regarding a murky and difficult area of law. And it comes against the backdrop of legislation hitting the statue books last February that criminalises some forms of revenge porn and creates maximum sentences of two years in prison for convicted offenders.

Queen Mary launched a bespoke Twitter feed specifically to open debate on the issue at the beginning of the year, and a PhD student will be speaking at a London conference on the subject later this week.

According to advice service head Julie Pinborough, the student-operated unit currently receives about six queries a month from those alleging they are victims of revenge porn. Pinborough says complaints come from both men and women, but the latter make up about 70% of the queries.

The advice service currently has six law students dedicated to dealing with revenge porn cases, with that allocation set to increase by two at the beginning of the new academic year. London law firm Mishcon de Reya provides specialist assistance to the service in relation to revenge porn issues, with media litigation associate Emma Woollcott taking specific responsibility.

The efforts at Queen Mary’s law school also fall against the backdrop of a potentially groundbreaking civil legal action in the English courts.

Chrissy Chambers, a 24-year-old American has launched a landmark action against her former partner, alleging that he posted pornographic images of her without her consent after their relationship finished. Last week, The Guardian newspaper reported that Chambers has instructed Ann Olivarius, the senior partner of London and New York niche litigation law firm McAllister Olivarius.

The legal team as brought the case in this jurisdiction because Chambers’s boyfriend — whom the newspaper did not name — is British and was living in the UK at the time he allegedly posted the images.

Olivarius -– who graduated from Yale law school in 1986, having previously been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford — has an established history of acting in difficult gender and sex cases.

She played a crucial role in a landmark US civil rights case, Alexander v Yale, which for the first time found that sexual harassment within an American university was illegal. The firm’s website states: “Since Alexander v Yale she has continued to break new ground and work on major cases in the area of discrimination and employment law. In 2012 she was included by the American Civil Liberties Union on its list of the most influential people in the history of Title IX, the US anti-discrimination law.”

A “revenge porn” law went on the statute books for England and Wales in April, creating an offence of distributing private sexual images of someone without that person’s consent and with the intention of causing distress.

However, as The Guardian article pointed out, that legislation will not assist Chambers, as the alleged posting of images involving her was distributed well before the law was enacted and it the legislation is not retrospective.

Nonetheless, Olivarius told the newspaper:

“We will take this case as far as the law allows. We know what has to get done, we know this is wrong, we know that society should not tolerate this, it’s not acceptable behaviour, but still they get away with it all the time.”

Queen Mary’s Pinborough also flags up loopholes in the recent UK legislation. She says for a crime to be committed, a pornographic image must be distributed with the express intention of causing distress.

Therefore, if the distributor commercialises the image — in other words seeks to make money from it – then the primary purpose of posting is financial. In those cases, arguably no crime will have been committed.

Public Policy Exchange is scheduled to host an event on 10 June titled “A new approach for tackling revenge pornography”. Speaking on the panel with Olivarius will be Queen Mary PhD student Ksenia Bakina.