Did you know that you could be convicted of breaking Britain’s Sexual Offenses Act for publishing information that identifies a sexual assault victim?
The former editor for the UK Sun and current Chief Operating Officer for News UK, David Dinsmore, was found guilty this week after the Sun did just that last week.
The Sun had published a photo of a minor-aged victim of Adam Johnson but didn’t go far enough in disguising her identity, the court ruled. Johnson, a former professional soccer player, was found guilty of sexual activity with a child earlier this month. He also pleaded guilty to another count of sexual activity with a child and one grooming charge, and was found not guilty of another charge of sexual activity with a child.
“Although the image was pixellated and heavily edited to obscure her identifying features, she was still recognised from social media,” the Huffington Post UK reported. Normally, the Sun would have been prosecuted too but “a paperwork error” made it so just Dinsmore was, the Huffington Post said.
Dinsmore apologized to the girl, the Sun and News Corp told iMediaEthics. According to the Press Gazette, the photo showed the victim with Johnson.
The Sun made substantial edits to the photo, the judge, Howard Riddle, noted. “It is right and it is indeed clear that there are no facial features identifiable from the photo, the hair colour has been disguised, the hair length has been changed, and the background to the photograph has been altered and indeed there have been other changes relating to, for example, clothing.”
Further, Riddle said he thought the Sun and Dinsmore tried to avoid breaking the act against identifying the girl and social media made it harder for news outlets to stay on the right side of the Sexual Offenses Act. “More distress was caused by social media,” Riddle said.
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“The article included a warning that anyone who identified the child online would face prosecution, including a reference to a case where people had been convicted for identifying a victim on social media,” the Press Gazette reported, noting that people on social media were able to identify the victim in this case as well. The newspaper later unpublished the article and photo, according to Press Gazette.
The Sexual Offenses Act gives victims “life-long anonymity,” the Durham Constabulary police’s website says. “The press are prohibited from publishing the name, address, place of work or education or any image of the victim, or any other details that might lead to their identification,” the police explained.
The constabulary’s Det Insp Aelfwynn Sampson commented in the news release that “What Dinsmore did in the Sun was legally and morally wrong.”
Sampson went on: “As a victim of a sexual offence, the identity of this child should have been protected. Instead her picture, although pixelated, was plastered across a national tabloid. She was not fair game, she was a child who was groomed by a person in power for his own sexual gratification.”
In its announcement about the verdict, the constabulary said it “launched” the prosecution against Dinsmore.”
Dinsmore has to pay a total of £2,300 fines and costs, the constabulary’s news release said.
UPDATED: 3/8/2016 10:03 AM EST Updated with information from Sun/News UK