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Minister unveils plans to crack down on cyber-flashing and cyber-stalking

Minister unveils plans to crack down on cyber-flashing and cyber-stalking

Thursday 28 March 2024

Minister unveils plans to crack down on cyber-flashing and cyber-stalking

Thursday 28 March 2024


Cyber-flashing and cyber-stalking are due to become specific offences in Jersey law before the end of 2025, as the Home Affairs Minister today unveiled her ambitious plan to tackle violence against women and girls.

Before the end of this year, significant changes are also scheduled to be made to the island’s Domestic Abuse Law to increase protection for victims, and funding has been secured for an end-to-end review of the criminal-justice system.

Home Affairs Minister Mary Le Hegarat has also pledged to explore the possibility of a new offence of sexual harassment in a public place within two years.

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Pictured: Almost all general public survey respondents had experienced at least one form of sexual harassment in their lifetime.

However, the Chair of the Violence Against Women and Girls Taskforce, which published its findings in November, said that "big questions" remained about long-term funding from Government and co-operation from the courts.

A long road...

The road to this moment began several years ago when the Constable of St Martin, Karen Shenton-Stone, lodged a successful amendment to the Government Plan to set aside £200,000 to establish a taskforce of 27 specialists in 2021.

After months of research, which included gathering testimonies from victim-survivors and hundreds of islanders, the group released its findings last November.

Among its 77 recommendations to Government and other agencies, it called for an independent review of the Jersey criminal justice system in relation to domestic abuse, rape and serious sexual assault – and a similar review of the family court system.

It also found that "gaps" in Jersey's legislation were "undermining the ability of the criminal justice system to protect victim-survivors or effectively manage perpetrators".

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Pictured: Karen Shenton-Stone lodged a successful amendment to the Government Plan in 2021, which set aside £200,000 to establish a taskforce of 27 specialists.

Concerns were raised that a Government reshuffle earlier this year would derail the report and halt momentum – but newly-elected Chief Minister Lyndon Farnham was quick to accept all 58 of its recommendations to Ministers.

Speaking earlier this month, he said that implementing them would be "a key priority" for his newly-formed Government.

Ministers committed to "transparent, timely and accurate" reporting of the actions of Government and its partners in an annual progress report and action plan for each year going forward.

The Home Affairs Minister Mary Le Hegarat's response has set out the next steps on this road toward the elimination of gender-based violence.

Deputy Le Hegarat, who has led the response, said that the work was an "ongoing, rolling programme" and that "we need to keep making sure that our community feels safe and that we're doing all that we can to assist that".

The publication of the plan comes weeks after the Chief Minister accepted all 58 of the taskforce's recommendations directed to the Government.

"Ongoing, rolling programme"

Deputy Le Hegarat said it was "important" that the Government had not "sat on [the report] for too long, otherwise people would have started to feel that maybe nothing was going to happen".

She acknowledged the work of previous Ministers and said that relevant departments had already started work on implementing the recommendations when the findings were first published.

Funding has already been secured for the work in 2024, she said, and would come from relevant budgets already allocated in this year's Government Plan.

From then on, she said, funding would "need to be considered".

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Pictured: Former police officer Deputy Mary Le Hegarat has set out the next steps on this road toward the elimination of gender-based violence.

Deputy Le Hegarat explained: "Some of the elements are business as usual. For example, the legislative changes have been incorporated in the work of the officers who work in Justice and Home Affairs."

Addressing whether she was concerned about the courts consenting to a review, Deputy Le Hegarat said: "I am not concerned and I have had no concerns raised with me about their co-operation.

"We can all have a conversation and we can address the matters if there are any concerns raised."

Deputy Le Hegarat said she would "hope and expect" that the courts would accept those recommendations and she would be "engaging with all parties individually to press for this".

She continued: "Even though we have made significant inroads over years, we need to continue to make those inroads. It's an ongoing, rolling programme.

"Now we have done this work, we don't step back and [say] we're done. We need to keep making sure that our community feels safe and that we're doing all that we can to assist that.

"We need to keep reminding ourselves that these are things we should do, and reminding ourselves as a Government to keep funding them."

The Government has committed to "transparent, timely and accurate" reporting of its own and its partners actions in an annual progress report, and an action plan for each year going forwards.

Cyber-flashing and cyber-stalking

Deputy Le Hegarat wrote: I will criminalise cyber flashing and the use of deep fakes through amendments to the Sexual Offences (Jersey) Law 2018.

"I will also amend this piece of legislation so that the offence of voyeurism is reliant on the absence of consent, without the need to prove specific motives.

"I will also ensure that cyberstalking is criminalised under the new stalking offence (see next steps for recommendation 28)."

Under recommendation 28, she explained: "Whilst I recognise that stalking is already criminalised under the Crime (Disorderly Conduct and Harassment) (Jersey) Law 2008, I accept that further legislative development in this area may support the successful prosecution of stalking behaviour and offer victims of this behaviour additional protections.

"For these reasons I will develop legislation to introduce an offence of stalking. I will ensure that stalking behaviours that are facilitated through the use of technology (called ‘cyberstalking’) are also criminalised under these legislative reforms.

"I will also consider the option of introducing stalking protection orders to offer better and more immediate protection to victims of stalking behaviour."

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Pictured: Almost two-thirds of the VAWG survey respondents under the age of 25 said they had received unwanted messages of a sexual nature.

Deputy Le Hegarat also outlined plans to strengthen data collection, education, expertise and regulation around online and technology-facilitated abuse.

On regulating online platforms, she said the path is not clear, explaining: "We need to look at what other jurisdictions are doing and whether there is anything that we can do off the back of that.

"There is a lot of work being done by other jurisdictions that will hopefully have some impact on us too."

Deputy Le Hegarat added: "It's also imperative that as an island we continue to educate people as best that we can in relation to online grooming and online incidents, so that people are aware of the potential risks of online.

"There's lots of things that we can do and continue to do to make sure that we as an island highlight the risks as much as we can and then look at anything else that we can do as an island in relation to those providers or those platforms."

Detective Superintendent Alison Fossey agreed that a "bespoke law" was need to tackle cyber offences effectively.

She said: "We're investing heavily in our Digital Forensic Unit, because it's all about technology now and that's where we do need to invest."

"A moving story"

Chair of the VAWG taskforce, Kate Wright said: "It's a little bit surreal to be at this point, and it is hugely positive for the island, not just for women and girls."

Mrs Wright said the taskforce would continue to operate, saying: "We'll be monitoring closely and holding various stakeholders, not just Government, to account.

"We will ensure that those working in this sphere have a joined-up vision, so we're not all going off and implementing training to different stakeholders in a piecemeal fashion.

"A lot of consideration and thought has gone into the recommendations, and these are huge. Some of them are going to take some time to interpret and put the meat to the bones."

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Pictured: Kate Wright, Chair of the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) taskforce.

She continued: "There are still some big questions. For example, where is the long-term commitment to funding? I want to see that.

"The other missing piece of the puzzle is the response from stakeholders that we haven't yet heard from, namely the Law Officers' Department and the courts.

"I'm hopeful, and I'm sure, that we'll get an equally positive response from them to the recommendations very soon."

However, Ms Wright said that the work is not complete and violence against women and girls is a "moving story", explaining that online forms of abuse were developing quickly.

"New ways of using technology to perpetrate abuse is just one example. Just as we close one hole another will emerge," she said.

"We've got to keep on top of it and try and stay ahead of the curve in terms of our policy making."

She continued: "When we were conducting our research, I was pretty shocked at the lack of expertise and understanding on island across sectors and across professionals with regard to online risks and VAWG. We know it’s huge.

"We don’t have any particular sway over the big social media businesses that operate from other jurisdictions, so it’s very hard for us to control and even influence their behaviour.

"It’s important that we learn what other jurisdictions are doing and adopt what we can in Jersey and within our small island context."

READ MORE...

Minister aims to put stalking and strangulation offences into law

"Emotional abuse isn't seen as serious enough for the police"

Bailiff: "The courts take violence against women and girls very seriously indeed"

"Radical change" needed as report reveals "shocking" extent of violence towards women

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