The media has been flooded this with weekend with reports of a celebrity presenter suspended over allegations that they paid a huge sum of money to a 17 year old in return for indecent images.
The presenter is not yet named and this highlights some interesting issues, such as: why the presenter has not been named; whether if the young person consented this would amount to a criminal offence; and whether the conduct would amount to abuse or assault in respect of which the young person could be compensated.
Why has the presenter not been named: defamation and privacy?
A BBC report yesterday looked at this question. It is likely to be due to the fact that, at present, there is a lack of evidence to support the allegations and the media have to be very careful not to fall foul of the law. Defamation laws in this country, mean that if the media published the name of the presenter or information which caused the person to be identified and the allegations then turn out to be false, they could be sued for any harm caused to the individual.
In this country privacy laws also affect whether and when the media can or choose to publish the name of an individual in such cases.
Would the presenter's conduct amount to a criminal offence?
Yes it could. Whilst 17 is above the age of sexual consent in this country, this is not the issue here. The allegations relate to indecent images and the Protection of Children Act 1978 states that it is a crime to make, share and possess indecent images of people under 18. This means that it is not possible for a person under 18 to consent to the images being taken. If the allegations turn out to be true then a criminal offence may have taken place, carrying a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
There has always been debate as to whether the law should criminalise the actions of teenagers who may both be under 18 and in a consensual relationship for example, but this situation is totally different. Here, we have a celebrity or someone in an influential position using that power over somebody younger than them.
Would the young person be able to claim compensation for sexual assault/abuse?
Criminal Injuries Compensation
The current Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (2012) would not provide compensation to the young person in these circumstances. One of the requirements of the scheme is that the applicant needs to have been the victim of a 'crime of violence'. Crime of violence is defined in the scheme and accompanying guidance and whilst the definition is open to interpretation, there have been determinations by the courts that have made it clear that the scheme does not cover this type of abuse. In 2022 two applicants that had been the victims of online grooming and abuse which included indecent images were refused compensation by the Upper Tier Tribunal. The Tribunal judge commented that any change to the current definition under the scheme was a matter for the government.
There are calls for reform of the scheme. Campaigners for reform are keen to see the definition of Crime of Violence amended to include a wider range of sexual assaults, including those that occur online or through the use of technology where there is no actual physical contact or fear of physical contact.
Fortunately, the civil law may provide a remedy in these circumstances. Whilst the civil law usually also requires there to be some form of physical contact in cases of sexual abuse or assault, there are certain circumstances where a claim can be brought. As civil abuse lawyers we can often use a very old case from 1897 to argue for damages in circumstances were the abusers conduct falls short of any physical contact. We have seen an increasing number of cases and enquiries in more recent years. With the major advances in technology and social media, reliance on this old legal principle has increased as online child sexual abuse and assault has become more frequently through the use of technology. In 2015 we saw a landmark case in which compensation was awarded to a child victim who was encouraged to send explicit messages and indecent images to her teacher.
In order to successfully claim in these circumstances, there are other elements that need to be present in the case but the civil law certainly recognises that compensation should be available in cases of online abuse or assaults facilitated through the use of technology.