Revealed: Hundreds of NZ teens warned or prosecuted for revenge porn

Hundreds of children and teenagers are among those warned or prosecuted for revenge porn.

People under the age of 19 now account for a third of the more than 2000 offenders police have dealt with since 2017.

Police figures obtained by RNZ under the Official Information Act show the number of reports of people sharing intimate or explicit images without the subject’s permission has more than doubled in the past five years.

Last year victims reported nearly 1400 cases to police, a jump from 660 in 2017 and already in the first six months of this year alone there were 665 reports.

Police sexual assault and child protection manager David Kirby attributes this to more people spending more time online.

“It’s consistent with the increased use of social media, the increased awareness of this whole area. I think part of it is also anything involving sexual, there’s a huge amount of under-reporting. And so as it’s gained more attention, there’s been more reporting,” Detective Inspector Kirby said.

Despite the big jump in reported cases, the figures show action against offenders has barely changed, at about 400 to 450 proceedings a year.

Last year police prosecuted 214 offenders, warned 123, and used other approaches, such as referral to youth services for a further 58.

In the first six months of this year police took action on 145 cases, compared to 319 for the entire year of 2017.

But despite this Kirby said the prosecution rate was good.

“They’re not low, there’s a prosecution there of around 50 per cent.

“Prosecution in all other sexual cases, we deal with adult sexual cases and child abuse, the prosecution rate is around 30-33 per cent so I actually say this prosecution is really high,” Kirby said.

Most of the offenders are male and they include a high proportion of children.

Since 2017 police have taken action against more than 250 children between the ages of 10 and 14 and against 483 aged 15 to 19.

Neither police nor Oranga Tamariki would comment on why minors and teenagers are committing these crimes.

Netsafe chief executive Brent Carey said young people needed more education to avoid becoming a victim.

“Helping them to critically think about some of these issues around putting yourself online, your digital footprint, understanding where information can flow and also, they’re probably rightly are still at a development age so you’ve also got to think of it from their perspective and not judge them as an adult,” Carey said.

Netsafe is Aotearoa’s internet watchdog and it works with police to gather victim reports.

Some victims say that process re-traumatises them and might contribute to a low rate of reporting.

Carey said Netsafe was trying to learn from past errors.

“Re-looking at ways to minimise that is something that Netsafe is undertaking to look at and so we want to make sure that our systems and our processes are known and accessible to as many New Zealanders as possible, and so that’s definitely at the heart of what we’re looking at, at the moment,” Carey said.

In March, the Harmful Digital Communications Act was amended so victims no longer need to prove the perpetrator’s intent or that harm was caused.

Anyone convicted of posting revenge porn can be punished with two years in prison or a $50,000 fine.

Despite the law change, Kirby predicts the number of cases will continue to grow.

“I tend to believe that there will be an increase. Whether it’s due to an increase of actually offending or just an increase in reporting because of the huge public interest in this aspect is one of those ones where it’s unclear. I would expect it to increase the level of reporting,” Kirby said.

He encouraged victims to come forward so police could help remove content from the internet.

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