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Legal protection for domestic and sexual violence: inclusions and exclusions

On 17 June 2019, the research centres Gender and Sexuality Research Network (GSRN) and the Science, Culture and Law at Exeter (SCuLE) organised a panel event on the legal protection for domestic and sexual violence. 

Three speakers discussed the issues in front of a large audience, followed by questions and discussion. The audience included academics from a variety of disciplines and people working in domestic violence service provision and on the Revenge Porn Helpline.

First, Professor Vanessa Bettinson from DMU Law School presented the findings of the research she had recently conducted with Dr Christina Quinlan (DMU) which looked at the perspectives of local statutory and voluntary organisations who have been involved in supporting young people and their families where a child or a young person has subjected their parent or carer to forms of violence and abuse. She highlighted the significant developments in academic and policy understandings of intimate partner violence that have taken place in recent years, as well as the increased awareness of other forms of family violence that has emerged alongside this, and questioned the role that the criminal law should have in relation to these. Adolescent-parent violence (APV), in particular, is a form of family violence that has been absent from criminal law discourses and has only recently emerged in criminological work, particularly that of Miles and Condry. This type of violence and abuse is liable to being criminalised under the offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship” (s. 76 Serious Crime Act 2015). Drawing upon her research with Quinlan, Vanessa assessed the criminal law’s application of s. 76 to situations where a child or young person subjects their parent or carer to forms of violence, questioning whether this is appropriate, or whether it misses the different relational context in which this type of abuse occurs.

Next, Elena Sharratt, PhD candidate in Sociology, Exeter discussed victim experiences of “revenge porn” through research she had conducted on secondment with the Revenge Porn Helpline. Elena discussed how victims’ experiences of intimate image abuse support critiques to the current law; victims experience intimate image abuse as a sexual offence, whereas intimate image abuse is currently legally classified as a communications offence. In addition to this, victims also describe perpetrators as not always being motivated by 'the intention to cause distress' (which is currently a necessary condition for prosecution).

Following on from Elena’s presentation, Dr Charlie Bishop, Law School, Exeter reflected on whether “revenge porn” should be conceptualised within the framework of domestic violence and abuse. S. 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 creates an offence of “disclosing private sexual photographs or films without the consent of an individual who appears in them” with “intent to cause that individual distress”. This sharing is commonly and colloquially referred to as ‘revenge porn,’ and Charlie suggested that this phrase may be inappropriate, for reasons that were discussed, and does not form part of the legal definition. Charlie provided a brief overview of the law before presenting the argument that the sharing of private sexual images would be better understood as an abuse and control tactic within the broader context of domestic violence and coercive control (which frequently includes sexual violence and abuse), rather than as a standalone offence.