Interview

Interview: Queen Mary students put ‘revenge porn law’ on the map

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Is this new practice area about to emerge?

revenge

Developments in technology have changed the way we live our lives, but not always for the better.

One unintended consequence of the smart phone era is the rise of so-called ‘revenge porn’ — the public sharing of explicit photos or videos of someone without their permission, most frequently by jilted lovers.

It’s a shocking trend — one described by former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling as “almost beyond belief” — but a trend nonetheless, and with an increasing number of perpetrators comes an increasing number of victims.

But think about this: if tomorrow, or the next day, you became a victim of revenge porn, would you know where to turn for advice?

This troubling question spurred on Julie Pinborough, director and founder of the Legal Advice Centre (LAC) at Queen Mary University London (QMUL), to start the centre’s Sharing and Publishing Images to Embarrass (SPITE) pro bono project in February last year. The scheme is premised on students and volunteer lawyers giving up their time to help empower victims of explicit photo sharing by providing legal advice and information.

In the wake of the SPITE’s big win at the annual LawWorks & Attorney General Student Pro Bono Awards, I headed down to LAC to chat to Pinborough and her colleague Fran Ridout, criminal barrister and deputy director of the centre.

Pinborough explained to me that — with so many deserving causes out there — picking which project to set up next was all about looking at what was already out there, and “catching” would-be clients that have nowhere else to turn to. She was the first to admit that SPITE, alongside LAC’s other nine pro bono projects, is very niche in its subject matter, but — as the UK’s first free legal service specifically for revenge porn victims — it fills a gap in the ‘market’ that would otherwise be left bare.

And this ‘nicheness’ has its pros. The sensitivities involved (inevitable given the combination of sexually explicit images and emotionally charged clients) require training to be intense and the support given to the volunteers to be very focused. SPITE participants can expect more than the generic eight weeks training given to all the centre’s student volunteers, and both Pinborough and Ridout — a door tenant at 15 New Bridge Street chambers — were at pains to point out that they promote a complete open door policy.

While the level of support provided is undeniable, the project still demands a huge commitment from its student volunteers. ‘Revenge porn law’ is not a thing in itself and disputes can branch out into criminal, intellectual property, and family law — so expect to learn lots of law if you want to get involved in the project.

And then there’s the time commitment. 10 students have advised clients one to one in the centre, and with each case likely to require 10 to 15 hours and each of the 10 students having worked on six to 10 cases this constitutes a significant workload.

There are also a further nine students who have worked exclusively on workshops and other education events in secondary schools.

Even though they are not paid for their time, the students are treated like lawyers, and they are expected to behave like professionals. Pinborough explained:

At the centre, we expect the student volunteers to behave like lawyers. That includes meeting strict deadlines, producing high quality work, and dressing professionally..

It’s not just time and effort that students bring to the table, but expertise too. Students have grown up in the digital age: teenagers and 20-something year olds know and understand the likes of Snapchat and Whatsapp — both breeding grounds for explicit photo sharing — far better than senior lawyers, who tend to be more disconnected from the digital world.

This intrinsic empathy and understanding goes a long way, and can really benefit the clients that SPITE engages with. As Ridout told me:

The project’s success is not measured by how many convictions are obtained, or whether our client secures a civil remedy, but by the empowerment of the client. The client comes to the centre with little or no knowledge of the law in this area, and they leave with information, legal advice and an understanding of what their options are.

But it’s not all give, give, give. Students that bite the bullet and commit to the project can expect to reap the rewards. Pinborough commented:

The SPITE project teaches more than just academic law. It teaches ethics, client management, and gives students an understanding of the profession. It really is a life lesson.

Over 80 clients and 400 schoolchildren have benefited from the project, and the demand is showing no signs of slowing down. Pro bono client enquiries at LAC — Pinborough told me — have increased by 52% since last year. Last September, the numbers were up 1115% from the previous September. Because of this surge, last October saw the centre temporarily close its enquiry system for the first time in nine years.

It’s a “huge concern”, but the team are ploughing on. It’s an exciting time for pro bono at QMUL. The team are hoping to build an international network of revenge porn university clinics, to help meet the demand from overseas clients. It seems that revenge porn law is growing: maybe we’ll see it on criminal law syllabuses and as a practice area in its own right in years to come. And — if that happens — then who better to lead the way than former SPITE volunteers?

If you have been a victim of revenge porn and would like to contact the centre, please email: lac@qmul.ac.uk

7 Comments

Anonymous

Time to start a revenge porn department at Clifford Chance

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Banter and Lash

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

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Anonymous

waiting for one of the legal cheek comment MRAs to argue that criminalising revenge porn is a gross invasion of one’s right to freely publish.

“This is exactly what the evil tyrant charlotte proudman would have wanted” etc

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Anonymous

I’ve yet to do my GDL, so I may be wrong, but the problem seems to be that people can only get prosecuted if they distribute porn for ‘malicious’ reasons. Thus, the countless Internet trolls who do so for ‘fun’ can avoid prosecution.

Of course, there is also the fact that the Internet has thousands of porn sites, and, given the fact that such videos spread like wildfire, it’s difficult to have all of them removed.

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Danger Mouser Chief Agitator & Rabble Rouser

If they knew the content was published without permission – or reasonably believed it was not possessed – then, sure, that’s malicious. Enforcement would be post-judgement anyway with any initial charge and sentence for the first-instance publisher.

It’s an extremely worthy project and I, for one, think QM are to be commended as I know for a fact they’ve been very dedicated with this for some time.

No quarter is ever to consider itself beyond the great reach of the law.

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Anonymous

“revenge porn” is just part of privacy law in a civil law context. There are lots of cases on this already eg

http://www.5rb.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/JPH-Return-Date-judgment.pdf

It’s like saying there is “kiss and tell” law or “alcoholics anonymous” law

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Tennis Balls

I fapped so hard tonight to some tasty internet pron my ballsack’s swolen.

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