Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Is grooming girls to join ISIS different to grooming for sexual abuse?

CCTV footage shows Shamima Begun, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana walking through security at Gatwick airport before boarding a flight to Turkey.
Amira Abase, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Shamima Begum, 15, at Gatwick airport
Last week three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green in east London secretly met and began travelling from the UK to Syria where they intend to join Islamic State (ISIS).  The thing that struck me most was not that they made this journey but that so many people in the UK have such a heartless attitude to the three girls.

Many people on Facebook and Twitter take the view that the girls are little more than terrorists and deserve what’s coming their way.  In the Independent, Grace Dent called the girls “ISIS fangirls” and went on to say that children running away to join ISIS should not be allowed to return to the UK.

I can understand why somebody would take that attitude but I don’t think it is a position that holds up to analysis.

Some years ago I represented a man who groomed children for sex.  I’ve met quite a few such men but this one was by far the most successful I’ve come across.  He convinced whole families of what a nice man he was.  He persuaded parents to sign “modelling” permission slips that allowed him to take teenage girls, aged from 13 to 18 years, into his home to photograph them - he managed to photograph all but one of the teenage girls who lived on the street in varying degrees of undress, about 10 girls in total.  Incidentally, he didn’t take them into his own home; so convincing was he that he took them into the home of his (adult) girlfriend and her teenage daughter whom he was secretly raping.  He was also raping other girls on the street.  These were not one-off incidents; this was a systematic targeting of girls and their families on an entire street over more than a year.  None of the girls complained and nearly all of them went back to this man, even introducing their friends for abuse by him.  Two 15-year-old sisters in particular clearly hated him but went back time and time again, often on a daily basis, knowing that they would be subjected to painful and humiliating sexual attacks, including vaginal and anal rape, bondage and beatings.

What made those girls return to him?  It was the work he did before and after the attacks to groom the girls.  He’d use a mix of gifts, kindness, cajoling and threats to get his victims to bend to his will.

The evidence seems to suggest that something very similar is happening to girls like the three currently heading to Syria.  They are contacted by people either on the internet or in person and are convinced that they should be joining ISIS.  These are not simply young girls sitting about at home watching the news and thinking “cor blimey that looks like a fun way to live”; these are girls who are young, still children and who are being manipulated by adults.  To me there seems to be very little difference between children groomed to join ISIS and children groomed for sexual abuse: same techniques used to control children for the fulfilment of an adult’s agenda.

I have little sympathy for adults who seek to join terrorist groups like ISIS, but I have a great deal of sympathy for children who have been manipulated so they can be taken from their homes to be abused, which seems to be what awaits these girls if they reach their destination.  They should be treated as victims, albeit potentially dangerous victims, and helped to see how they have been manipulated not banned from re-entering the UK as many, including the Independent seem to want.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Revenge porn... yet again

Revenge porn
This is the third time I have returned to the subject of revenge porn (previous posts are here and here) and I’d like to make clear from the outset that I am not some sort of pervert worried that his fun is going to be ruined by this new law… okay I’m not just a pervert (that’s a joke by the way).

The offence is now on the statue books and is contained within the brand new Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, which received Royal Assent last week.  Section 33 makes it a criminal offence:

“for a person to disclose a private sexual photograph or film if the disclosure is made—
(a)without the consent of an individual who appears in the photograph or film, and
(b)with the intention of causing that individual distress.”

Note there that the Act is talking about a “disclosure”, not a publication.  So, while it is convenient to think of somebody posting a picture of their ex to the internet this offence could be committed by showing the photograph, for example to people in the pub, without actually publishing it.

The section then goes on to create four defences:

  1. Disclosure to the person in the photograph;
  2. Disclosure of the images is necessary to prevent crime;
  3. Publication by the press (it might be illegal for you to put the pictures on an obscure website but it’s okay for Rupert Murdoch to put them on the newsstands for your mum to see); and
  4. The images have previously been publish “for reward” and the defendant had no reason to think that previous publication was done without the consent of the person in the image.


It’s worth noting that the offence is not limited to the original publisher.  So, if Kevin is upset because Melanie dumped him and he takes revenge by posting some saucy photographs on the Twitter then Kevin will be guilty.  However, if Mark sees them and wants to add to Melanie’s suffering then he commits an offence by hitting the retweet button (let’s be honest I think Facebookers are the more likely culprits of this sort of thing, so maybe I should say the “share” button). 

Many of us will have seen the Facebook posts where the party of the first part denounces the party of the second part as an adulterous bastard and accompanies the post with a photograph of the party of the first part’s part with a reference to its inferior size…no?  Just me then is it?  Well, take it from me that such posts are invariably shared with additional comments about just how awful the unhung scoundrel is.  It seems likely to me that such re-sharing of the image will constitute an offence under the Act.  Will there be an appetite to go after prosecutions on a Lord McAlpine scale?  I doubt it.

With that we move on to the real problem with the offence as I see it.  The definition of the offence requires the defendant to disclose the image “with the intention of causing [the person pictured] distress”.  How will we know if the defendant was motivated by a desire to cause distress?  You might think that the answer is obvious: if Ricky is upset at Bianca and shares tawdry image of her knowing it will cause her distress then he must have meant to cause her distress since that is the obvious outcome of his actions?  Well, subsection 8 has something to say about that:

“A person charged with an offence under this section is not to be taken to have disclosed a photograph or film with the intention of causing distress merely because that was a natural and probable consequence of the disclosure.”

So we have the dilemma of how to prove that Ricky meant to cause Bianca distress.  If Ricky says he didn't mean to cause distress then how are we to disprove that in light of subsection 8?

As I have said so often on this blog, there is a tendency for politicians to react to the outrage of the day by abusing the criminal law; twisting it to purposes it was never intended to handle.  I think that this might just be one of those situations.  It is easier for a politician to say, “this is a crime” (even with as many caveats as this offence has) then it is to say “look you lot need to take some responsibility for yourself.  If you don’t want mucky pictures of yourself on the internet then don’t share them with other people.”  It’s also an easier sell to the press to say “we've made this illegal” than it is to say “we’re encouraging parents and teachers to educate kids about how not to get into this situation as adults.”

The biggest problem is that it does little to address the actual harm at its heart.  Even if Ricky goes to prison for 20-years (which he obviously won't) the pictures will still be on-line for all to see.  That's why I see this offence as a shirking of politicians duty to protect those who might do their reputation some serious cyber-harm.

Time will tell how effective this law will be…and how badly I've ruined my browser history finding a picture for this post.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

That bloody Europe

The European Court of Human Rights is much funkier than Ealing Magistrates' Court


As we all know Europe’s sole reason for existing is to frustrate the British Government and annoy the British people with their directives, regulations and pesky decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.

The minor fact that the European Union has nothing to do with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is just a technicality – they’re all in it together.

A big complaint among those opposed to Europe is the ban placed upon us by the ECtHR preventing us from locking up murderers and throwing away the key.  I did point out what a lot of nonsense this is more than a year ago in January 2014 in Aiming for a century.

In a nutshell the problem arose because the UK government abolished the review of whole of life sentences that used to take place when they were 25-years into their sentence.  The ECtHR, not unreasonably, puts rehabilitation at the core of the convention – the idea that somebody can atone for their crimes and one day earn their freedom.  This doesn’t mean it should be a fast process or that an offender shouldn’t be punished; it does mean that hope of freedom should not be taken away and recognises that people do change.  The man who commits a murder aged 25 is probably not the same man who hopes for release at age 60!  I know it’s only a film but Morgan Freeman’s character in Shawshank Redemption gives an excellent example of this in his speech to the parole board.

This morning the ECtHR handed down a judgment in Hutchinson v United Kingdom holding that whole of life sentences are lawful because section 30 Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 allows release on compassionate grounds and is a sufficient review process.

So, once again, we see that the criticism of human rights law and “Europe” is overblown and, generally speaking, incorrect.

Having said that, I disagree with the decision in Hutchinson.  Compassionate release is a process mainly aimed at situations where the offender is ill or elderly.  That may be sufficient in most cases, but I do think there should be a review possible to confirm that the original whole of life tariff remains correct even after 25-years have passed and public outcry has faded.