Online misogyny set to be outlawed
Law Professor. Advisor. Commentator.
Expert on Violence Against Women & Girls
My work emphasises the prevalence and devastating impacts of online violence against women and girls, as well as identifying the necessary legislative measures to better regulate the online world.
The focus in the UK has been on the Online Safety Bill and how it can be strengthened. This has involved giving oral evidence to various Parliamentary Committees, recommending legislative reforms, working with a coalition of experts to develop a Code of Practice on Violence Against Women and Girls, making the case for a consent-based cyberflashing law and how best to regulate pornography.
Internationally, I worked with the German organisation Hate Aid on the EU’s Digital Services Act, co-authoring an expert opinion justifying enhanced obligations on porn websites. I also co-authored the preparatory work for the first Thematic Paper on the Digital Dimension of Violence Against Women adopted by UN, Council of Europe and other violence against women human rights bodies.
I have also worked with many of the major social media platforms to review their practices and policies regarding online abuse against women and girls, as well as working with dating app Bumble to recommend laws covering cyberflashing and intimate image abuse.
Online violence against women and girls infringes our human rights and liberty. Stronger regulation is urgently required.
News & Articles
UK Online Safety Bill
The UK’s Online Safety Bill provides a real opportunity to reduce online violence against women and girls. I’ve been working closely with politicians and voluntary sector organisations like Refuge, Glitch and the End Violence Against Women coalition to make the case for stronger measures to tackle online abuse. My focus has been on strengthening pornography regulation, introducing a consent-based criminal offence of cyberflashing and updating intimate image abuse offences, as well as working with a coalition of experts to develop a Code of Practice on Violence Against Women and Girls that will ensure internet platforms take online abuse of women seriously. It's a long legislative process, but progress is being made.
Back in September 2021, I gave oral evidence to Parliament’s Joint Committee reviewing the Government’s draft Bill: a clip of my exchange with John Nicolson MP explaining the nature and harms of cyberflashing is on twitter. The Government has since agreed to include cyberflashing in the Bill. My written evidence focussed on key changes that would better ensure any regulatory regime that takes abuse against women and girls seriously.
Fast-forward to May 2022 and I was part of a panel of experts on violence against women giving oral evidence to Parliament’s Public Bill Committee. The Committee were particularly struck by my evidence on the easy availability of rape porn, child sexual abuse cartoon images and other sexually violent porn on twitter and google.
Professor McGlynn giving evidence to Parliament on the Online Safety Bill
At the same time, Parliament’s Women & Equalities Committee launched an inquiry into pornography and the Bill, inviting me to share my particular expertise – on the sexually violent content of online porn and how best to regulate it. I gave oral and written evidence, arguing that “the prevalence of harmful violent pornography online… normalises sexual violence”, that pornography is the ‘cultural wallpaper in all our lives’, and therefore stronger regulation is essential. Reports of the session include a video montage of the evidence I gave together with the NSPCC, Refuge and Cease.
Compilation of Clare McGlynn, Vanessa Morse of Cease, Gabriela de Oliveira of Glitch and Hannah Ruschen of NSPCC giving evidence to Parliamentary inquiry into Pornography, May 2022
Key to reducing online violence against women is getting social media and internet platforms to take safety and prevention seriously, in all their systems, processes and policies. Not just taking down pieces of abusive content, but ensuring it’s not there in the first place. One way of ensuring they must take this seriously is to include a Code of Practice on Violence Against Women and Girls in the Bill. I’ve been part of a coalition of experts – NSPCC, Refuge, 5Rights, Carnegie, Glitch, EVAW and Lorna Woods – which has developed a draft Code and worked with politicians to make the case for its adoption. There’s been dialogue with Ministers, letters in the press and, following the House of Lords debate in February 2023, a front page article in the Telegraph calling for the Code to be included in the Bill.
International & EU Regulation
International Human Rights and Online Abuse
Human rights should form the foundation for internet regulation, with greater recognition that women and girls’ human rights are being breached by online harassment and abuse. To further this goal, I worked with the Council of Europe and Carlotta Rigotti to co-author the preparatory work for the first Thematic Paper on the Digital Dimension of Violence Against Women adopted by a group of international and regional human rights bodies (EDVAW) including the UN and Council of Europe. This agreement will form the foundation for future monitoring of how states are implementing human rights in the online context.
European Union Digital Services Act
I am working closely with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and civil society organisations such as Hate Aid to examine the laws being proposed and adopted in the EU to tackle online abuse against women and girls, including the proposed Directive on Violence Against Women and Girls. Read the research article and policy brief.
In relation to internet regulation, the EU recently adopted landmark legislation the Digital Services Act. However, this legislation failed to address the easy availability of non-consensual pornography on mainstream porn websites. During the legislative process, MEPs and online abuse charity HateAid developed proposals to hold large porn companies accountable for the non-consensual sexual imagery on their websites, as reported widely across Europe. Together with Prof Lorna Woods, we produced an expert opinion justifying these provisions which were taken up by the European Parliament. Unfortunately, the measures did not make it into the final law adopted. My comment that ‘as ever, online abuse against women and girls gets marginalized and minimized’ was reported when it became clear that protections for women were ‘traded away’.
Supporting Social Media Platforms
I have worked with a range of social media organisations to help improve their understanding of victims’ experiences of online abuse and support their policy development. This has included closed consultations, debates and presentations on my research including with Facebook, Google and TikTok.
In 2018 I addressed Facebook’s Global Safety Team at their HQ in Silicon Valley, together with Kelly Johnson, where we presented our research on the harms of image based sexual abuse. We subsequently participated in a number of consultations on the development of their policies on non-consensual intimate imagery, resulting in some policy changes.
Clare McGlynn and Kelly Johnson, Facebook HQ 2018
Cyberflashing: Recognising Harms, Reforming Laws
Clare McGlynn & Kelly Johnson (2021), Bristol University Press
Cyberflashing has been on the rise since the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, despite its prevalence and significant harms, cyberflashing is not a criminal offence in England and Wales. This crucial book provides new in-depth analysis, understanding and insight into the nature and harms of cyberflashing. The authors consider recently adopted laws in the US, Singapore and Scotland, and set out proposals to criminalise cyberflashing as a sexual offence in English law. This unique and timely study presents the first comprehensive examination of cyberflashing and the need to reform the criminal law.
For a policy briefing, see here. To read more about this research, click here.
Image-based sexual abuse: a study on the causes and consequences of non-consensual nude or sexual imagery
Nicola Henry, Clare McGlynn, A Flynn, K Johnson, A Powell and A Scott, 2021, Routledge
This book investigates the causes and consequences of image-based sexual abuse in a digital era. Image-based sexual abuse refers to the taking or sharing of nude or sexual photographs or videos of another person without their consent. This book investigates the pervasiveness and experiences of these harms, as well as the raft of legal and non-legal measures that have been introduced to better respond to and prevent image-based sexual abuse. The book draws on ground-breaking empirical research, including surveys in three countries with over 6,000 respondents and over 100 victim-survivor and stakeholder interviews.
Towards an EU criminal law on violence against women: The ambitions and limitations of the Commission’s proposal to criminalise image-based sexual abuse
Carlotta Rigotti & Clare McGlynn (2022), New Journal of European Criminal Law 13(4), 452-477
In March 2022, the European Commission proposed a new landmark Directive on combating violence against women and domestic violence which includes measures on the non-consensual distribution of intimate and manipulated images. We refer to this form of violence against women as ‘image-based sexual abuse’, a term that encompasses all forms of the non-consensual creating, taking or sharing of intimate images or videos, including threats to share such material and altered material. In this article, we provide a new analysis of current Member State laws covering all forms of image-based sexual abuse, as well as the first detailed examination of the Commission’s proposals to tackle this form of violence against women. We suggest that the Commission’s proposal is characterised by both its ambition and limitations. It is ambitious in its attempts to set minimum rules in challenging areas of criminal law and, in doing so, recognises the serious harms of image-based sexual abuse. At the same time, by seeking to expand the reach of EU criminal law, inevitably requiring compromise, the scope of the proposed measures is somewhat limited. Such compromises and limitations risk entrenching hierarchies between different forms of abuse and, ultimately, the proposal fails to provide a comprehensive response reflective of victims’ experiences.
Read the Policy Briefing on this research here.
‘Devastating, like it broke me’ Responding to image-based sexual abuse in Aotearoa New Zealand
Nicola Henry, Nicola Gavey, Clare McGlynn, & Erika Rackley, 2022, Criminology & Criminal Justice
The non-consensual taking or sharing of intimate images, also known as ‘image-based sexual abuse’, has become a widespread problem. While there has been growing attention to this phenomenon, little empirical research has investigated victim-survivor experiences. Drawing on interviews with 25 victim-survivors, this article focusses on the different responses to image-based sexual abuse in Aotearoa New Zealand. We found that victim-survivors had diverse and often multiple experiences of image-based sexual abuse, perpetrated for a variety of reasons, which extended beyond the paradigm of malicious ex-partners seeking revenge. Some participants described the harms experienced as ‘devastating’: a form of ‘social rupture’. Few had formally reported to police or pursued other justice options. While participants held different justice ideals, all sought recognition of the harms perpetrated against them. Yet they faced multiple obstacles when navigating justice, redress and support options. The authors conclude that far-reaching change is needed to improve legislative, policy and prevention responses to image-based sexual abuse.
Cyberflashing: Consent, Reform and the Criminal Law
Professor Clare McGlynn, 2022, The Journal of Criminal Law 86(5), 336–352
In the context of growing calls for a new law criminalising cyberflashing – the digital distribution of penis images to another without consent – this article makes the case for a comprehensive, ‘consent-based’ criminal offence specifically targeting cyberflashing. It justifies this approach by examining the core wrongs of cyberflashing and suggests draft legislative text for such an offence. In making this case, the article analyses and rejects the Law Commission’s recent proposal for a ‘motive-based’ cyberflashing law. Ultimately, it is argued that while the Law Commission's proposal is a welcome recognition of the harms of cyberflashing and need for reform, it does not go far enough to offer the redress victim-survivors are seeking, nor does it provide an appropriate normative foundation for education and preventative initiatives.
Read a policy briefing here on why a consent-based law should be introduced
‘It’s torture for the soul’ The Harms of Image-Based Sexual Abuse
Clare McGlynn, K Johnson, E Rackley, N Henry, N Gavey, A Flynn, A Powell (2021). Social and Legal Studies 30(4), 541–562
Beyond ‘scandals’ and the public testimonies of victim-survivors, surprisingly little is known about the nature and extent of the harms of ‘image-based sexual abuse’, a term that includes all non-consensual taking and/or sharing of nude or sexual images. Accordingly, this article examines the findings from the first cross-national qualitative study on this issue, drawing on interviews with 75 victim-survivors of image-based sexual abuse in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. We adopt a feminist phenomenological approach that permits more nuanced and holistic understandings of victim-survivors’ experiences, moving beyond medicalised, trauma-based accounts of harm. Our analysis develops five interconnected accounts of the harms experienced, that we have termed social rupture, constancy, existential threat, isolation and constrained liberty. Our findings shed new light on the nature and significance of the harms of image-based sexual abuse that emphasises the need for more comprehensive and effective responses to these abuses.
The psychology of non-consensual porn: Understanding and addressing a growing form of sexual violence
Asia Eaton and Clare McGlynn (2020). Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences 7(2), 190–197
Abstract: As of 2020, legal protections for victims of image-based sexual abuse in the U.S. remain inadequate. For example, no federal law yet criminalizes the sharing of sexually-intimate material without a person’s consent (i.e., nonconsensual porn), and existing state laws are patchy and problematic. Part of the reason for this problem may be that U.S. lawmakers and the general public have yet to grasp that nonconsensual porn is a form of sexual abuse, with many of the same devastating, recurring, and lifelong consequences for victims. This review of psychological research on nonconsensual porn includes frameworks for understating this image-based sexual abuse, correlates and consequences of victimization, victim blame, and the nature of perpetration. Then, we analyze U.S. laws on nonconsensual porn in light of this review, and argue for comprehensive legislative solutions.
Image-Based Sexual Abuse
Clare McGlynn and Erika Rackley (2017). Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 37(3): 534-561
Advances in technology have transformed and expanded the ways in which sexual violence can be perpetrated. One new manifestation of such violence is the non-consensual creation and/or distribution of private sexual images: what we conceptualise as ‘image-based sexual abuse’. This article delineates the scope of this new concept and identifies the individual and collective harms it engenders. We argue that the individual harms of physical and mental illness, together with the loss of dignity, privacy and sexual autonomy, combine to constitute a form of cultural harm that impacts directly on individuals, as well as on society as a whole. While recognising the limits of law, we conclude by considering the options for redress and the role of law, seeking to justify the deployment of the expressive and coercive powers of criminal and civil law as a means of encouraging cultural change.
Beyond ‘Revenge Porn’: The Continuum of Image-Based Sexual Abuse
Clare McGlynn, Erika Rackley and Ruth Houghton (2017). Feminist legal studies 25(1): 25-46
In the last few years, many countries have introduced laws combating the phenomenon colloquially known as ‘revenge porn’. While new laws criminalising this practice represent a positive step forwards, the legislative response has been piecemeal and typically focuses only on the practices of vengeful ex-partners. Drawing on Liz Kelly’s (1988) pioneering work, we suggest that ‘revenge porn’ should be understood as just one form of a range of gendered, sexualised forms of abuse which have common characteristics, forming what we are conceptualising as the ‘continuum of image-based sexual abuse’. Further, we argue that image-based sexual abuse is on a continuum with other forms of sexual violence. We suggest that this twin approach may enable a more comprehensive legislative and policy response that, in turn, will better reflect the harms to victim-survivors and lead to more appropriate and effective educative and preventative strategies.