Category: Crime

Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, Section 2

Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, Section 2

Section 2 of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 makes it a criminal office to disclose, or threaten to disclose, a photograph or film which shows, or appears to show, another person in an intimate situation. Introduced in response to the growing phenomenon of ‘revenge porn’, whereby vengeful ex-partners distribute private sexual images without the consent of their former partners, the offence goes further than this. It also extends to the non-consensual distribution of other forms of image-based sexual abuse, notably so-called upskirt images, that those (often but not always) surreptitiously taken up a woman’s skirt, and pornographic photoshopping, where, for example, an individual’s Facebook profile picture is superimposed onto an explicit image. As such it was the first – and to date only – legislation in the UK and Ireland addressing varied forms of image-based sexual abuse.

Section 2 of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 is unusual in delivering more than it promised. Sold as an offence to address the problem of revenge porn, from the outset it has gone beyond this. By the time it was passed, the so-called ‘revenge porn law’ provides a bespoke response to multiple forms image-based sexual abuse. As such it is a key milestone in ongoing efforts to protect and respect women’s privacy and sexual autonomy both on and off line.

Erika Rackley

The full version of this landmark is written by Erika Rackley.

Learn More

Not Yours to share:

Clare McGlynn and Erika Rackley, ‘Not “revenge porn”, but abuse: let’s call it image-based sexual abuse’ (Everyday Victim Blaming, 6 March 2016)

Clare McGlynn, Erika Rackley and Ruth Houghton, ‘“Beyond ‘Revenge Porn”: The Continuum of Image-Based Sexual Abuse’ (2017) 25(1) Feminist Legal Studies 25–46

Clare McGlynn, ‘The Law Must Protect All Victims Of Image-Based Sexual Abuse – Not Just Upskirting’ Huffington Post, 9 March 2018

Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015

Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015

Black and white image of the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Act (Wales) 2015
Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0 (

The Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 (VAW Act) is the first piece of legislation in the United Kingdom to explicitly and specifically address violence against women as opposed to ‘domestic violence’ generally. Following a unanimous vote of the National Assembly for Wales, it became law in Wales on 29 April 2015. The key purpose of the VAW Act is to improve the public sector response in relation to the prevention, protection of victims and support of those affected by acts of gender-based violence, domestic abuse, and sexual violence (section 1).

At the very least, the VAW Act reshaped the way in which public sector in Wales is responding to violence against women, domestic abuse, and sexual violence. It made those issues a priority, both for the local government in Wales and for the public sector. It is certainly hoped that, in the long-term, the Act will have a transformative effect on public attitudes towards violence against women.

Olga Jurasz

The VAW Act is significant for women as it sets out practical steps which local government and public sector ought to implement in order to work together to prevent violence against women. Despite a plethora of legislation in England and Wales punishing various forms of violence against women and offering some remedies for victims, thus far there has been little focus on preventative measures within such laws. The VAW Act introduces an important shift in that respect: it focuses on establishing strategic and coherent public sector mechanisms aimed at prevention of and protection from gender-based violence, domestic abuse, and sexual violence in Wales. The Act also aims to strengthen the support available to the victims of gender-based violence, domestic abuse, and sexual violence.

The full version of this landmark is written by Olga Jurasz.

Learn More

Welsh Government Llywodraeth Cymru, ‘Violence Against Women and Domestic Abuse’

R v Nimmo and Sorley [2014]

R v Nimmo and Sorley [2014]

Colour photo of woman's hand holding an iphone with a laptop on a desk in front of her

R v Nimmo & Sorley gave prominence to online misogynist abuse and the harm it inflicts on its victims. It brought the issue of gender based online abuse into the mainstream. The visibility of women, and the visibility of women suffering for their efforts in campaigning for the recognition of women is a legacy attributable to this case.

Kim Barker

R v Nimmo & Sorley [2014] changed the perception of social media offences in England and Wales. The decision in this case followed a short – but significant – period whereby social media abuses such as trolling, and harassment were prevalent but often remained outside of the focus of the criminal law. It saw the first custodial sentences imposed for sustained abusive messages made via social media platform Twitter to two women – Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creasy – during a campaign against the replacement of the only woman (Elizabeth Fry) to appear on English banknotes with a man (Winston Churchill).

Colour photo of the unveiling of Elizabeth Fry on the £10 note
The New £10 Note Unveil Event from Bank of England [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (]
The case is significant not only in the development of prosecutions for social media offences, but also because it is the first judgment issuing custodial sentences for abusive social media messages against women. Additionally, it was the first decision handed down under the revised guidance on social media prosecutions from the Director of Public Prosecutions issued in light of Chambers v DPP.

The full version of this landmark is written by Kim Barker.

Learn More

CPS, ‘Hate Crime: What is a Hate Crime?’

Ruth Lewis, Michael Rowe, and Claire Wiper ‘Online Abuse of Feminists as An Emerging Form of Violence Against Women and Girls’ [2016] The British Journal of Criminology


Concluding Observations of UN Committee against Torture regarding the Magdalene Laundries (2011)

Concluding Observations of UN Committee against Torture regarding the Magdalene Laundries (2011)

In June 2011, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) examined Ireland’s human rights record for the first time. The CAT’s Concluding Observations addressed an issue which had long been ignored by the Irish government, and had not yet been considered by any international human rights treaty body or national or international court: the so-called ‘historic’ abuse of girls and women in Ireland’s Catholic church-run Magdalene Laundries.

Colour photo of wall covered with papers and the phrase Magdalene Justice
Magdalene Justice by William Murphy [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]
The CAT noted that it was ‘gravely concerned’ by both ‘the failure by the State party to protect girls and women who were involuntarily confined between 1922 and 1996 in the Magdalene Laundries’, and the State’s failure to investigate allegations of ill-treatment in the institutions. The CAT therefore recommended that the Irish government (a) ‘institute prompt, independent and thorough investigations into all complaints of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that were allegedly committed in the Magdalene Laundries’; (b) ‘in appropriate cases, prosecute and punish the perpetrators with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offences committed’; and (c) ‘ensure that all victims obtain redress and have an enforceable right to compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible’. These recommendations were included in the CAT’s urgent follow-up mechanism, requiring the government to respond within one year.

The full version of this landmark is written by Maeve O’Rourke.

Learn More

Nicole Gernon, ‘Magdalene Survivors Say Government Broke Its Promise’

The Journal, ‘UN Committee Against Torture Recommends Inquiry into Magdalene Laundries’

Justice for Magdalenes Research: A Resource for People Affected by and Interested in Ireland’s Magdalene Institutions

Maeve O’Rourke, ‘Ireland and UNCAT One Year On: Magdalene Survivors Still Denied Their Right To An Apology And Redress’ (Human Rights Ireland, 28 May 2012)

Read an interview with Maeve O’Rourke in Rachel Cooper, ‘The forgotten women of Ireland’

Policing and Crime Act 2009, Section 14

Policing and Crime Act 2009, Section 14

Coming into force on 1 April 2010, section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 made it a strict liability offence in England and Wales to pay for, or promise to pay for, the sexual services of a person who has been coerced, deceived, forced or threatened by a third party into prostitution.

Colour photo of pound coins
Pound Coins by William Warby [CC BY 2.0 (]
It is irrelevant where in the world the sexual services are to be provided, and whether the buyer is aware of the exploitative conduct of the third party. “Exploitative conduct” includes force, threats (whether or not relating to violence) or any other form of coercion; or they practise any form of deception.

Prostitution is undeniably gendered, and the significance of section 14 lies in the ways in which it sought to account for the role of gender inequality in situating agency. The amendment marked a shift in attention for prostitution legislation in England and Wales, away from the public nuisance discourse towards a more informed understanding of the role of material inequalities and the operations of coercion.

Fiona Vera-Gray

Section 14 is a landmark in women’s legal history not only as it was the result of concerted and coordinated campaigning from feminist activists both within and outside of government. It also marked an important shift in policy focus for England and Wales, moving legislative attention away from women and onto the choices of men.

The full version of this landmark is written by F Vera-Gray.

Learn More

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘New Law on Forced Prostitution Weakened, Say Women’s Groups’

Rights of Women, ‘Section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 A Crucial Step Towards Ending Commercial Sexual Exploitation’

Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007

Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007

Colour photo of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the Right to Choose campaign from the Forced Marriage Unit
Forced Marriage Unit Videos from Foreign and Commonwealth Office [CC BY 2.0 (]
The introduction of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 marked a ground-breaking moment in the history of black and minority ethnic (BME) women’s struggles in the UK, against violence against women and for equality. It represented the culmination of BME women’s struggles against the powerful multicultural precept that legal and other state responses to the needs of BME women should be guided by cultural relativism rather than by secular, universal human rights norms and standards on gender equality. And, it signalled a human rights-based approach to all forms of gender-based violence against BME women who otherwise remained invisible in the social contract that had been forged between the British state and its minorities.

The full version of this landmark is written by Pragna Patel.

Learn More

BBC News, ‘Laws in the UK: Forced Marriage Act’

Emma Franck-Gwinnell, ‘Forced Marriage: Is It A Human Rights Question?’ (Human Rights News, Views and Info, 1 September 2016)

Southall Black Sisters, ‘The Forced Marriage Campaign’

R v Ahluwalia [1993]

R v Ahluwalia [1993]

Ahluwalia was an overwhelmingly positive legal landmark for women. However, the gendered nature of the justice system remains. This is perhaps most clearly seen in the dilution of the sexual infidelity exclusion [in R v Clinton], as well as in interpretations of the requirement to focus on the circumstances of the defendant’s loss of control. It is clear that despite progress made, the pervasiveness of gendered stereotyping around (battered) women remains.

Siobhan Weare

The landmark case of Ahluwalia liberalised the defence of provocation for women who kill their abusive partners, and acknowledged Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS) could be a relevant characteristic of the defendant’s for the purposes of the defence. The case began a process of law reform, culminating in the abolition of provocation and its replacement with a new partial defence to murder; loss of control, found in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.


The full version of this landmark is written by Siobhan Weare.


Learn More

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘I Wanted Him to Stop Hurting Me’

The Independent, ‘Law Report: Battered Woman Syndrome Relevant to Defence’

Justice for Women

Law Commission, Murder, Manslaughter and Infanticide (Law Com No 304, 2006) (EasyRead version)

Southall Black Sisters,

Southall Black Sisters, ‘Kiranjit Ahluwalia’

Southall Black Sisters, ‘Provoked: The Story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia’

Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990, Section 5

Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990, Section 5

The removal of the marital rape exemption sent an important signal about women’s sexual autonomy. However, while the landmark was important symbolically, there is still a sense that marital rape is a ‘crime apart’ from other forms of rape. Thus, although this landmark was symbolically significant, in practice there is more work to be done to ensure that it is as momentous in practice as it is in principle.

Susan Leahy

Until 1990 in Ireland, a husband could not be prosecuted for the rape of his wife as a result of what was Black and white silhouette of a woman sitting by a large circular windowknown as the ‘marital rape exemption’. Abolishing a husband’s immunity from conviction for rape of his wife was a significant turning point in reform of sexual offences law. Section 5 of the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amendment) Act 1990 formally erased a husband’s immunity from prosecution for marital rape. This reform marked a break with the idea of rape as a property crime (and husband as sexual proprietor of his wife), as well as sending a message that consent may be absent even where individuals have had sex numerous times before. However, whilst the reform constituted a very significant advance symbolically, its practical effects in terms of convictions and appropriate punishment of marital rape have been less pronounced.

The full version of this landmark is written by Susan Leahy.


Learn More

Kitty Holland, ‘Marital Rape Remains Extremely Difficult to Prosecute’ (The Irish Times DAC, 26 July 2016)


Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985

Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985

Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 came into force in the United Kingdom on 16 September 1985, and made it an offence ‘to excise, infibulate or otherwise mutilate the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person’, except to treat specific medical purposes. The offence was punishable with up to 5 years imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both, but it only covered the practice if performed within the UK.

Variety of Vaginas by Teysha LeManski (used with permission)

It has been over 30 years since the 1985 Act was passed. The Act was a positive step towards stopping a practice considered a serious violation of human rights. However, to date there have been no successful prosecutions for FGM in the UK.

Women and feminists played a key role in putting – and continue to play a key role in keeping – the issue on the political agenda.

In 2017, ‘tackling’ female circumcision remains an ‘integral part’ of the cross-Government Violence Against Women and Girls strategy. A new All-Party Parliamentary Group on FGM was launched in October 2017, co-chaired by Labour’s Jess Phillips and Tory MP Zac Goldsmith. Speaking in the same month, Nimco Ali, co-founder of Daughters of Eve, said she believed it was possible to eradicate it completely by 2030

‘I always say that my FGM was physically painful, but the most painful thing was constant dismissal … Even when I was doing campaigning everyone told me it was a customary act. I said, “No it’s violence against women and girls”, and they said “it’s a cultural act” … I have thought about it for 20 years — I haven’t just come to a conclusion that I want to protect vaginas. I realised that what happened to me was because I was a girl’

The full version of this landmark is written by Phyllis Livaha.


Learn More

Female Genital Mutilations Act 2003

The Guardian News and Media Group Ltd., ‘Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)’

The Guardian News and Media Group Ltd., ‘FGM is Banned But Very Much Alive in the UK’

Helen King, ‘The Rise and Fall of FGM in Victorian London’ (Open University, 12 March 2015)

Human Rights News, Views and Info, ‘FGM is Recognised as Torture’

Find out more about the Women’s Legal Landmarks Project

Project leaders, Rosemary Auchmuty and Erika Rackley, talk to Elizabeth Woodcraft about the aims, methodology and ambitions for the Project for PodAcademy

Get involved

The landmarks that appear on this website were chosen by participants in the Women’s Legal Landmarks Project.

If you think a key positive legal landmark for women is missing and you’d like to write about it – then get in touch.

Search the Landmarks

Follow us on Twitter