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Research highlights need for police forces to have a greater awareness of revenge pornography

In the first survey of its kind, researchers at the University of Suffolk have been investigating the understanding of revenge pornography within police forces, across the county and in the UK.

This builds on the University’s growing expertise and pioneering research, which addresses topical issues, particularly those affecting young people, such as peer-on-peer abuse, revenge pornography, sexual abuse online and cyber security. It also follows the launch of the Centre of Excellence in Terrorism, Resilience, Intelligence and Crime (CENTRIC) in Suffolk and the Suffolk Institute for Social and Economic Research (SISER).

Since the introduction of new legislation in 2015, making revenge pornography a crime in the UK, the number of cases has risen sharply with more victims feeling able to report the crime, while prevalence in the mainstream media is beginning to increase public awareness. In January 2018, YouTube star Chrissy Chambers won damages in a landmark UK revenge pornography case. Even though the offence occurred in 2011, before the new legislation, she was able to use the Civil Courts to sue her former partner for harassment, breach of confidence and misuse of private information.

The aim of the research, conducted by Professor Emma Bond, Director of Research, and Katie Tyrrell, Researcher at the University of Suffolk, was to establish the level of understanding of revenge pornography among police officers and staff. The survey of national police forces, undertaken between late February and Early April 2017, was part of a wider research initiative funded by the Police Knowledge Fund through the College of Policing and HEFCE, which aims to develop the understanding and use of research in policing. The survey was developed with the National Revenge Porn Helpline and was supported by the College of Policing.

Revenge pornography is a form of online abuse with devastating personal consequences for victims. The Revenge Porn Helpline is receiving increasing reports and calls from victims yearly, with nearly 2,000 in the past year suggesting an increased need. The relatively recent introduction of legislation around revenge pornography means police officers and staff are often one of the first points of contact for victims, therefore their response to this is vital.

The findings of the research and the outcomes of the survey highlighted the lack of formal training completed by police officers and staff. Of the 783 police officers and staff who completed the survey, 95% reported not receiving formal training on how to respond to cases of revenge pornography despite such devastating effects for the victims. Therefore, going forward, training opportunities for police forces is crucial.

Katie Tyrrell, Researcher at the University of Suffolk, said “This is one of the first studies to quantify police understanding of revenge pornography and the results highlight the limited understanding of legislation and confidence in responding to cases of revenge pornography amongst police officers and staff within the UK, demonstrating an urgent need for training across police forces.”

Laura Higgins from the Revenge Porn Helpline commented, “We welcome this survey and its findings, which reflects the feedback we receive from many of our clients, that many police forces lack the knowledge or confidence required to manage reports and that many victims feel they are not taken seriously. Non-consensual image based abuse is a problem of our time and, as the only dedicated helpline for victims in the UK, we know that the number of cases is growing year-on-year. We urge police forces across the country to provide their teams with the training necessary to ensure victims feel able to report crimes safe in the knowledge that they will receive the support they require and that offenders will be brought to justice.”

In addition to the research, the University is hosting the Virtual Violence: Technology-facilitated Domestic Abuse and Control conference on 10 May, bringing together multi-agency practitioners, academics and students in order to raise awareness of technology-facilitated abuse, advance understanding around the digitalisation of abusive relationships and to discuss approaches moving forward.

This follows the University’s recent activity highlighting safer internet use through the Blurring Boundaries conference, hosted earlier this month. The conference brought together experts from across the country to address a regional audience of delegates from schools, colleges, healthcare providers, social services and safeguarding organisations, focussing on topics affecting young people such as peer-on-peer abuse, revenge pornography, sexual abuse online, and cyber security.

Read the full report here: http://journals.sagepub.com/eprint/ys7F87MKtfIm2XgzqAVu/full

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