Sharing and publishing images to embarrass a former partner and obtain revenge – the growing problem of the malicious use of intimate images in Family Law proceedings

The increased use of smartphones and social media has changed the way in which relationships are conducted and more recently the way in which people act upon relationship breakdown. Those who have smartphones can instantly take high quality pictures and videos and can instantly share these with a partner, friends or the public using websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp. The ease of such sharing has increased the scope for abusive and controlling behaviour upon separation.

The Queen Mary Legal Advice centre refers to the issue as SPITE – Sharing and Publishing Images To Embarrass which acknowledges that there can be circumstances where images are not shared for revenge and shaming an individual but perpetrators can also be motivated by the desire for control or financial motives.

In the recent case of RC (mother) v AB (father) [2015] which concerned a private law application for leave to remove the child from the jurisdiction it was found that the father had arranged for a friend to post an intimate photograph of the mother on Instagram together with a caption ‘bring back my child’. The mother also feared the father would publish an intimate video of them which had been taken years earlier. Cobb J in this case found that such incidents were harassing and done deliberately to hurt the mother and this behaviour had to be taken into account when considering the arrangements for the child.

The publishing of images without consent is becoming increasingly cited in Family Law cases, as threats to release intimate photos or videos are frequently being used in order to coerce an individual into taking or ceasing a particular course of action within proceedings. The sharing of such images can have a devastating impact on those involved. The victims of such behaviour are not only left feeling humiliated but also images and information posted on social media can have a detrimental effect on their current and future employment prospects.

Remedies and removing the images:

Most social media pages such as Twitter and Facebook have banned photographs being posted without the subject’s consent and there are policies in place for the removal of such images. It is important that screen shots are taken of the images prior to removal to support any further action that may need to be taken. Non-molestation orders can be applied for if those involved are ‘associated persons’. ‘Associated persons’ are those who are associated with each other in one of the following ways:

• You are or have been married to each other.
• You are or have been in a civil partnership with each other;
• You are cohabitants or former cohabitants (including same sex couples)
• You live or have lived in the same household.
• You are relatives.
• You have formally agreed to marry each other (even if that agreement has now ended).
• You have a child together (this can include those who are parents of the same child, and those who have parental responsibility for the same child).
• Although not living together, you are in an “intimate relationship of significant duration”.
• You are both involved in the same family proceedings (e.g. divorce or child contact).

If none of the above applies it may be possible to apply for a protection from harassment order.
If you are experiencing abuse following your separation or fear that your former partner is acting in a vengeful manner, you can talk to us in complete confidence about the legal steps you can take to bring your abuser to justice and to legally end your relationship. Our Family Law specialists will handle your case with sensitivity and provide the proper advice and guidance you need. Please contact us for a free 20 minute consultation on 0161 927 3118.