WORLD NEWS

Revenge Porn Helpline Cases Surge In Lockdown, With 'Sextortion' On Rise

The UK helpline has dealt with more cases this year than it did during the whole of 2019, with women worst affected.

The UK’s revenge porn helpline has dealt with more cases so far this year than it did during the whole of 2019, amid fears of a post-lockdown “new normal” when it comes to online image abuse.

Some 2,050 reports of so-called revenge porn had been made to the government-funded helpline as of Monday. This represents a 22% rise on the 1,685 reports over 2019 and its busiest year on record.

The helpline, run by the charity SWGfL, part of the UK Safer Internet Centre, saw cases almost double in April compared to the same month the previous year – from 122 to 242.

Advisers thought this spike may settle, but despite the coronavirus lockdown easing, cases have remained high through to August.

From April to the end of August, 1,387 reports were made, the equivalent of nine every day. Last month, the helpline dealt with 285 cases, a 63% increase on the 175 dealt with in August 2019.

The sharing of private or sexual images or videos of a person without their consent became an offence in England and Wales in April 2015.

Research by Refuge found one in seven young women have received threats that their intimate photos will be shared without their consent, suggesting this is a common form of abuse.

Around two thirds of cases reported to the helpline involve women. It has helped remove 22,515 images this year – 94% of the 23,913 reported by victims.

Its experts predict the UK total could rise to 2,700 reports by the end of the year – 60% higher than the 2019 total.

Helpline manager Sophie Mortimer believes the sustained rise is evidence of a long-term behaviour triggered by the lockdown, and greater awareness of the crime and support. “It’s interesting it hasn’t dropped and for me, that really does confirm we were only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” she told PA news agency. 

“I think it did show that there’s a lot more going on behind closed doors, and the tighter those doors are closed, the more intense some of that behaviour has become, and maybe brought things to a head that otherwise would have taken a lot longer or might have taken a different shape.”

Sextortion cases – when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you don’t provide them images of a sexual nature – have also risen since lockdown, and now make up almost a fifth (18%) of the total cases dealt with by the helpline. Before the lockdown, they accounted for 13% of the total.

While around three quarters of the 363 sextortion cases involved male victims this year, figures suggest a greater number of women are being exploited. In March and July, 30% of the sextortion cases flagged to the helpline involved women.

David Wright, director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, said: “The lockdown produced an extreme set of circumstances which are bringing a lot of problems.

“What we are seeing here, however, suggests something more long-term has happened which could mean we will be busier than ever before.

“It’s worrying to think this could be the new normal.”