A third of revenge porn cases across England and Wales dropped by victims despite suspect being identified

More than 28,000 revenge porn reports were made to 38 police forces across England and Wales from 2015 to 2021

Just over a third of revenge porn cases reported to police in England and Wales have been dropped by victims despite a suspect being identified - according to figures.

Charities have pointed to a lack of trust in police and facing a "potentially bruising" criminal justice process without the guarantee of anonymity as some of the reasons for the high victim dropout rate.

Data from the 38 police forces in England and Wales which responded to a freedom of information request by the RADAR news agency shows at least 35% of crimes have been dropped by victims nationally since 2015 despite a suspect being identified.

Victims in more than 10,000 revenge porn cases from 2015-2021 did not support further police action.

The number of offences reported have increased over the seven-year period, but it’s thought they still don’t “scratch the surface” of the true extent of the crime.

Across England and Wales, at least 28,201 offences were recorded between 2015 and 2021 – though data for five forces did not cover the whole period.

Of this number, victims in 10,044 cases where a suspect was identified did not support police action.

The offence of disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress – so-called "revenge porn" – came into force in April 2015 and carries a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment in England and Wales.

Trust in police is at ‘rock bottom’

It was extended in June 2021 to include threats to share intimate images, following months of campaigning spearheaded by domestic abuse charity Refuge.

Refuge CEO Ruth Davison said survivors of the crime, who are overwhelmingly women, may decide not to support further police action for many reasons.

"It’s very rare for threat or sharing of intimate images to happen in isolation without other forms of domestic abuse," she said.

"Our Naked Threat research found that 72% of women who have experienced threats to share were threatened by a current or former partner – and for the vast majority of these women, this isn’t the only way they are abused."

Ms Davison said many victims will be under pressure from perpetrators not to support police action for fear of what they will do to them.

She added that women’s trust in the police is "at rock bottom" and impacting their confidence to report crimes committed against them.

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Nationally, only around 6% (1,759) of revenge porn crimes resulted in a suspect being charged or summoned to court between 2015 and 2021.

In 1,717 of the cases recorded a suspect had not been identified.

Figures relate to outcomes at the time of the FOI response and some cases may still be under investigation.

Victims feel ‘exposed, violated and humilated’

Sophie Mortimer, manager of the Revenge Porn Helpline, a dedicated service helping adult victims, said another key reason behind victims dropping revenge porn cases is that their anonymity is not guaranteed.

She said: "Although media outlets rarely name victims, the possibility of being outed in their local communities is too much to contemplate.

"Victims of intimate image abuse are feeling incredibly exposed, violated and humiliated and the prospect of a potentially bruising criminal justice process that may drag on for months just isn’t acceptable."

Last year 7,357 offences were recorded by the 38 forces – a 39% jump from 5,291 in 2020.

But these figures "do not scratch the surface" of the true prevalence of the crime, according to Refuge and the Revenge Porn Helpline, who say only a fraction of victims report their experiences to police.

"There are many barriers that women face when it comes to reporting abuse, ranging from fear of being judged to mistrust in the police," Ms Davison said.

Deputy Chief Constable Ian Critchley, lead for child protection at the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said: “Police take the disclosure of private or intimate images – sometimes referred to as ‘revenge porn’ – very seriously.

"We will pursue all lines of inquiry and prosecute people wherever appropriate.

"We recognise that going through the criminal justice system can be very stressful for victims, leading to some victims withdrawing from the process. We are working closely with partners throughout the system to ensure that victims have the confidence to report crimes and that they receive appropriate support at every stage."