Using the law

Taking action against online abuse is important.

 

Depending on the nature of the abuse you are experiencing and your relationship with your abuser there are a number of actions you might be able to take.

 

  • Some online abuse could be a criminal offence and you could report it to the police.

  • You may be able to get an injunction against your abuser to stop the abuse continuing.

  • There may be other non-legal actions you can take to prevent future abuse

 

This page gives you more information about the options available to you and links to get further advice and support.

 

Remember, regardless of what the law says, you don’t have to put up with it.

 

Is it a crime?

There are a number of criminal offences that someone may commit in being abusive online. For example:

 

  • It is a criminal offence under the Communications Act 2003 to send messages using any public electronic communications network, such as Twitter or Facebook, which are grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.
    Take action and report the abuse

 

  • It is a criminal offence under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 for someone to disclose private sexual images of you online or offline without your consent with the effect of causing you distress. This is more commonly known as ‘revenge porn’.
    Revenge Porn Helpline

     

  •  It is a criminal offence under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 for someone to disclose information about your gender identity or history if you have, or are applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate and they have received that information in an official capacity.
    Find out more: 
    Gender Identity Research and Education society (GIRES)

 

There are a range of other offences which the police can investigate including harassment, harassment when someone fears violence,   and stalking under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Find out more:

Stalking Helpline 

Galop

 

The Crown Prosecution Service will decide whether to charge someone based on a two stage test.  They will firstly consider whether there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.  This is called the evidential test.  Secondly they will consider whether the public interest requires a prosecution.  This is known as the public interest test. The Crown Prosecution Service takes instances of hate crime seriously and has specific guidelines regarding the prosecution of domestic violence, disability hate crime, homophobic and transphobic hate crime, and crimes against older people. 

 

Regardless of likelihood of prosecution, you have a right to report it to the police.

 

Take action and report the abuse

​Crown Prosecution Service

What other legal action can I take?

Depending on the relationship or contact you had with the person being abusive, you may be able to apply for an injunction to prevent the abuse continuing. For example:

 

  • If you are or were in a relationship with your abuser or they are a relative you could apply for a non-molestation order under the Family Law Act 1996 forbidding your abuser from threatening, harassing or pestering you online.

  • If your abuser is a stranger or you do not have a close connection to them you may be able to apply for an injuction under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 forbidding your abuser from continuing the online abuse.

  • At the end of criminal proceedings, whether there has been a conviction or an acquittal, where appropriate a CPS lawyer can make an application for a type of injunction called a restraining order. 

 

The Law Society has a list of solicitors. 

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can also help you find a local solicitor. 

 

Rights of Women

Taking Action

Resources

Seeking legal advice

It can be helpful to get proper legal advice, whether you are thinking about criminal or civil law remedies. Independent advice agencies may also have some legal information and contacts to solicitors which specialise in the situation you are facing.

 

Law Society

Citizens Advice

Rights of Women

Victim Support

Resources page

 

You may have to pay for a solicitor to work on your advice. Depending on the nature of your case and your financial circumstances you may be eligible for legal aid. Your solicitor will be able to tell you about this. If you are not eligible for legal aid and cannot afford to pay a solicitor, there are some organisations which may be able to give you free legal advice and representation:

Rights of Women

Law Works

Legal Aid information

Being a witness

It’s a good idea to get support if you need to give evidence at a criminal trial. The Crown Prosecution Service will provide a prosecution barrister who will present the case against the offender (called a defendant in court). This person will ask you to give your evidence but they are not there to represent you. 

 

If you give evidence for the prosecution, you will also be asked questions by the defence and possibly the judge/ magistrates. If a defendant is represented the lawyer will ask you questions on the defendants behalf. If the defendant does not have representation, it is likely the court will appoint a person to act in court and ask questions on behalf of the defendant so you do not have to be cross examined directly by them.

 

The CPS and the police jointly run Witness Care Units, which exist to support victims and witnesses who are asked to give evidence in court. The police should put you in touch with your local scheme but you can also find out more at: Crown Prosecution Service

 

Victim Support is a national organisation that can give advice and support to people who have been victims of crime.

Non-legal action

There are a number of actions you can take without needing to report to the police or use the law. For example, you can report online abuse to the website owner or administrator and ask them to take appropriate action such as taking down comments, removing photographs, or shutting down accounts. You can complain to the relevant regulatory body and use online campaigns to raise awareness of the issues.

 

Take action

Privacy and Sharing of Personal Information

The law prohibits certain types of abusive behaviour but the law does not always protect people’s privacy, if you have disclosed information about yourself to others. The online world can feel very friendly and informal and it’s easy to share information about yourself, your gender identity, history or sexual orientation, your relationships, family, interests, health issues and so on. It is not unlawful for others to pass on this information without your consent, unless they do so in a way prohibited by a specific law.

 

For example, if someone posts your address and phone number online as a threat or incitement to violence against you, or as part of ongoing harassment against you, then this is unlawful.

 

If someone posts personal sexual images or videos of you online without your consent, this is unlawful.

 

But if someone ‘outs’ you or discloses your gender history, sexual orientation or HIV status when you have disclosed these things online, it might not be unlawful, unless it can be proved that their actions are prohibited by a specific law or it is done to harass or threaten you.

 

Remember that you can often get the website owner or administrator to do something about abusive behaviour online – for example, take down comments or photos, or shut abuser’s accounts – and you can complain to the site and/or the regulatory body. You can do these things whether or not you report something to the police.

 

Take action

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Remember, regardless of the law, abusive behaviour is never acceptable.

Hurting, frightening, threatening or harming an individual or group of people online because of who they are is wrong. This is abuse.

Case Study

Who: Nine people were prosecuted after admitting they named online the woman who was raped by footballer Ched Evans. 

 

The Case: The former Sheffield United and Wales striker was jailed for five years for raping a 19-year-old women.  Following the trial, the victim was named and described in derogatory ways by nine people on Twitter and Facebook. The law grants victims and alleged victims of rape lifelong anonymity.  The nine who pleaded guilty claimed they were not aware naming her was a criminal offence.

 

 

Outcome:  The nine individuals were all charged with publishing material likely to lead members of the public to identify the complainant in a rape case, contrary to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992  They had to pay compensation to the victim and were themselves named and shamed in court.