First of all, some scene setting: consider this. That you on a date that turns into a one-night stand. You have sex, you decide to stay over, you go to sleep. Your date records a video of your tits, and saves it to the cloud. You don’t see him again.
Another: you’re married, or in an equally serious long-term relationship. Your partner waits until you are asleep and reaches for his phone in the dead of night to pan the camera lens over your body, recording hours of your body without your knowledge or consent.
One more: you’re in a relationship but your partner has decided it no longer fits into their life in a positive way. They are leaving, tomorrow or the next day perhaps, but they want a keepsake of your body from long after they’ve let you go. They video you, unclothed, unconscious and unaware. You have no idea that they are watching you, long after your heart has been broken.
It is uncomfortable to think about. And in scenarios where coercion or rape is concerned, perhaps even more so. Emily Hunt, a campaigner and speaker who went public with her attempt to privately prosecute a man for rape, is uncomfortable about it, too. Hunt told police that she woke up in May 2015 in a hotel, naked and next to a stranger she had never seen before, panicked and certain that she had been drugged. She went straight to the police, who ascertained that the man had had sex with her – despite his claims in the morning to Hunt that “nothing happened” between them – which he claims was consensual sex, though Hunt maintains she could not and did not consent.
The man was not prosecuted for rape because of insufficient evidence – and a bungled police investigation, according to Hunt, who filed a complaint against the Met Police Sapphire Unit and launched a private prosecution, waiving her anonymity per the cause. However, a year later while at a meeting with police that she believed to be about her complaint, another issue quietly arose.
“I thought the meeting was to discuss the complaint I’d made about several errors I believe police made the in hours after I was raped,” Hunt told Grazia. “Instead I was told that he had taken a video of me while I was unconscious in that room. It had been taken, at this point, a year earlier. I was horrified. Police seemed confused when I was taken aback and upset – I asked them to assure me that this video hadn’t been uploaded to cloud storage. I immediately thought, does this man still have it? Is it saved? Has it been uploaded to a porn site? Or anywhere else? They didn’t know. They said, vaguely, that they would ‘ask their tech guys to look into it’.
“Then they added that he also masturbated on to me. I didn’t know either of these things until that meeting.”
Hunt’s alleged attacker told police in his statement that he knew that he didn’t have her permission to take the video and, further, knew that Hunt would be “upset” if she had woken up while he was filming her.
Is it illegal to take a video of someone’s naked body without their consent? Yes. Under the Sexual Offences Act 2013, the action of deeply invading privacy and filming someone naked without their consent, is prohibited by the offence of voyeurism. It is governed and legislated against, for good reason.
However, when Hunt asked the CPS to prosecute the man she alleges raped her for voyeurism, she says was met with reticence. “They told me that they couldn’t prosecute because this had taken place in private,” Hunt told Grazia. “According to them, consent is implicit in me being in that room with him: being videoed is no less illegal than being… seen.” The law, she says, is not being actioned by the CPS as it should. As such, she has now launched an action calling on the CPS to be subjected to judicial review on the subject, working with the Centre for Women and Justice.
“The CPS had told me that it was legal for someone to film you, without your consent or even if you are unconscious,” Hunt explains. “So I started lobbying the government to change the law around voyeurism. The government said in response that they thought what I was doing was admirable, but that they couldn’t support my campaign because they believed what I was calling for was already illegal and comes under the sexual offences act.
“I went back to the CPS. But they wouldn’t move either. There’s a huge gap in how this law translates to action taken – and what protections victims have.”
In a statement on the Centre for Women’s Justice website, Hunt’s case and the CPS’ stance is clarified further: “Whilst accepting that there is no dispute the video recording for the purpose of future sexual gratification was non-consensual, but because there was not sufficient evidence to prove that the preceding sex was non-consensual, there could be no reasonable expectation of privacy for the act of filming naked whilst asleep.”
“That seemed messed up to me,” Hunt explained this week. “Because it didn’t just apply to me – or the man who raped me and took this video. This could be somebody’s partner, a friend, someone who is about to get dumped and doesn’t know it. They could save that video for after they’ve broken your heart and you might not know about it. Even if you do, there could be little you could do about it.”
Quite naturally, Hunt has been disturbed by the information she received about video which was taken of her, in such abhorrent circumstances, too. “I am a private person and, while I very much think that whatever two consulting adults get up to privately is absolutely their choice and their business, I have never been videoed even consensually. It is not something I’d feel good about even on my own terms.
“Maybe that’s because I just haven’t trusted anyone I’ve dated enough. I suppose that has made all of this all the more horrifying. I’ve never allowed myself to be videoed – so for someone to just take it from me was devastating.”
This week Hunt reached her crowdfunding goal of £5000 to kick-start a judicial review, and has sent, along with the CWJ, two letters before action in one week to the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to failure to prosecute sexual offences.
“The only way to keep this from happening to anyone else in the UK is to make sure that the CPS prosecutes these cases,” Hunt said of the legal action. “They can’t just decide not to read the law as written and ignore the government’s advice on what the law intended when it was passed.
“That’s why I’m taking them to court to force the issue.”
“It is hard to fathom why the CPS has taken such a cowardly approach to prosecuting sexual offences of late, in what is looking like systemic discrimination against women,” Harriet Wistrich, the Director of the CWJ said. “The consequence is men are emboldened to continue to abuse women because they know there is little chance they will be held to account.”
It really is hard to fathom.
When Grazia contacted the CPS for comment, we were told that they are unable to comment specifically due to the ongoing legal issues. In a statement, the CPS said: “Sexual offences are some of the most complex and challenging cases we prosecute and we will not hesitate to bring a case to court where there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest. We never take lightly the decision to stop a prosecution and we recognise that this can have a significant impact on a complainant. But if a case is reviewed and found not to satisfy our legal test then we cannot continue it.