UK government addresses violence against women in new social media crime reforms
Mon 10 Oct 2016
The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service, the legal arm of government, has published new definitions for prosecutable social media offences, including more pointed prohibitions against ‘doxing’ – rabble-rousing behaviour designed to corral social media trends, hashtags sentiments against individuals; and new sections that directly address violence against women.
The guidelines will inform judiciary decisions, and contain updates on previous guidance. New sections include guidelines for the treatment of Violence against Women and Girls (VaWG), hate crimes and ‘vulnerable victims’.
Part of the latter changes covers the practice of ‘baiting’ – more colloquially known as ‘slut-shaming’ – which the document defines as ‘humiliating a person online by labelling them as sexually promiscuous or posting ‘photoshopped’ images of people on social media platforms’.
No mention is made in the new guidelines as to whether standard exemptions for satirical purposes, in the case of already well-known personages, might remain under the new rules.
New sections covering Violence Against Woman and Girls (VaWG) concede that no totally effective legal definition of cyberstalking has yet been established, but outlines key components that indicate the crime, such as harassment during live chat, spamming with junk emails, threatening emails and/or text messages, hacking and monitoring of social media accounts, and cyber-identity theft; amongst many other possible indicators.
The rulings redress some ambiguities which have arisen over the legal definition of doxing, since it was addressed in the Serious Crime Act 2007. It clarifies that publishing personal information such as an individual’s address or bank details, or urging social media viewers to promulgate a derogatory hashtag, constitute prosecutable behaviour.
The amended guide advises that the dissemination of images of women with serious injuries, subject to assault or other acts of violence, or being raped, should be considered grossly offensive and subject to prosecution if accompanied by text that shows approbation of the acts.
The department of Public Prosecutions commented “Our latest Hate Crime Report showed that in 2015-16 more hate crime prosecutions were completed than ever before. More than four in five prosecuted hate crimes result in a conviction; with over 73 per cent guilty pleas, which is good news for victims. We have undertaken considerable steps to improve our prosecution of hate crime and we are committed to sustaining these efforts.”
The revisions come in the context of Hate Crime Awareness Week, which this year has an extra emphasis on tackling the problem of cyber-bullying in school environments. They also coincide with the launch of CPS Public Policy Statements on Hate Crime, which will investigate the possibility of further (presumably better-specified) criminalisation around those who oppress others on the grounds of disability, sexual orientation or race.