Friday 20 April 2018

Art student charged with revenge porn after submitting photo of topless ex-boyfriend for degree

Judge entered formal 'not guilty' verdict and awarded Smith, who is still at university, travel costs

Helena Horton

An art student was arrested and charged with making “revenge porn” for including a naked photograph of her former boyfriend in a university project.

Lauren Smith, 26, included a heavily-cropped photograph of the man in a piece of artwork, which was awarded a first and published on her artwork Facebook page -but none of her personal social media accounts.

The University of Lincoln student was charged with disclosing a private, sexual photograph with intent to cause distress - the charge commonly known as “revenge porn” after her former boyfriend claimed to have identified himself and was “embarrassed”.

The original image had been 'topped and tailed' to edit out the head and genitals, but the complainant argued he could identify himself in it.

The artist made no reference as to who the image, set within a number of other photographs, depicted, a court heard.

Ms Smith denied the charge, alleged to have been committed between May and September last year, and was due to stand trial at Maidstone Crown Court on Wednesday.

Before a jury was sworn to hear the case judge said he had "real misgivings" about the prosecution's arguments. He highlighted the purpose of the law, which was introduced by Parliament to tackle the increasing numbers of incidents whereby sexually explicit images or video are uploaded to the internet to humiliate the individual depicted and without their consent.

Judge Philip St.John-Stevens questioned whether there was any intent or distress caused, and said the legislation introduced by Parliament was “a reaction to what is not an uncommon occurrence” of revenge pornography.

The judge said Ms Smith's case had to be viewed in context, explaining: "It's an image within a number of images in a piece of artwork submitted to university and marked for its artistic merit.

"What is the evidence that the cropped image is of the person the Crown purport it to be? Even if that individual is correct in his belief that it is him, the image has specifically had the head removed and edited and the genitalia edited. "Nowhere in the artwork does it refer to him or that it was him. If he believes it is him, it is not an offence if it's only him that thinks it was him. How does anyone else know it is?"

He also said that distress could only be caused if the subject was identifiable by others, telling the court: "This image has had everything done to it to ensure the identity of the person isn't revealed. Anyone looking at this could not identify the person in that photograph."

Prosecutor Oliver Dunkin, after this explanation, decided not to submit any evidence and told the court: "We were all in agreement that now we have consideration of the art project and looking at the case properly in the round, we cannot put this forward to a jury."

The judge therefore entered a formal not guilty verdict and awarded Ms Smith, who is still at university, travel costs of £240.50.

Speaking after the hearing, a relieved Ms Smith, from Gainsborough, welcomed revenge porn legislation but said she had not committed such an offence. "I am glad the offence is there because people do do that. It's like having a safety blanket if anyone does anything like that," she said. "But mine just wasn't like that. I was just making art and this case is not what the offence is there for."

An offence of revenge porn carries a maximum prison sentence of two years in England and Wales, and five years in Scotland. It is described as 'the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress'. The legislation covers images showing sexual activity, or with genitals, buttocks or breasts exposed or covered only by underwear. Both sharing the material and posting online is considered an offence.

Telegraph.co.uk

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