Harassment – sextortion, blackmail and other privacy infringements – what can you do?

read time: 3 mins

Everyone has a reasonable expectation of privacy in certain circumstances. Often things are so private or sensitive that the threat of them being revealed publicly is enough for the victim to pay over large sums of money to maintain their privacy. Whether such threats arise following a breakdown of a relationship or because the perpetrator has engineered a situation in which they obtain private information or private images with the goal of exploiting the victim, the Courts are willing to intervene to prevent disclosure.  

Often those with significant media or business profiles are targeted or become the victim because the perpetrator thinks they will have more money to pay, and that they have more to lose. 

JRV & Anor -v- BRG (Re Injunction) [2023] EWHC 2238 (KB) handed down on 8 September 2023 highlights the distressing circumstances in which the Defendant threatened to (and to an extent did) make public aspects of the Claimant’s sex life following an extra-marital affair, unless tens of thousands of pounds were paid for the Defendant’s silence.  

In this case, the Claimant and Defendant had met on a dating website aimed at people with certain specific sexual interests that might be seen outside of the norm for dating websites. Both parties were married and went on to engage in an affair. 

When the relationship soured, the Defendant demanded £40,000 and threatened to reveal private and compromising material to the Claimant’s wife and family on the internet if he did not pay up. The Defendant started posting information about the Claimant online albeit without expressly identifying him, including explicit images and videos. She did this without consent. Eventually, the Defendant made direct contact with the Claimant’s wife at the same time publishing further information which could ultimately identify him.   

The Claimant decided to take legal action. Ordinarily, legal action is taken publicly – the general rule being that cases should be heard in public because of principles of transparency and open justice. However, the Courts do recognise that in privacy claims, this can defeat the very purpose of the legal proceedings. Here, the Judge was satisfied that it was appropriate to grant the parties anonymity such that the details of the claim were still public but anything which could identify the parties (including their names) were Ordered to be anonymised. This is why the Claimant is identified as JRV and not by his real name. JRV is random set of initials unconnected to the party. 

The Judge was also satisfied that it was appropriate to grant an interim (temporary) injunction restraining the Defendant from publishing anything further about the Claimant at least until the matter came back before the Court. If the Claimant were to publish anything further whilst the injunction was in force, it is very likely that she would be acting in contempt of court and liable to a prison sentence.

An interim injunction is pursued as a matter of urgency, often at a time when the evidence supporting the claim is incomplete. Sometimes it can also be justified for the Claimant to pursue the interim injunction without the Defendant’s knowledge, particularly where there may be evidence that notifying the Defendant of an intention to seek an interim injunction could provoke the Defendant into hastily disclosing the private information before the Claimant has an opportunity to get the injunction in place.

Ultimately, conduct of this nature is very likely to amount to a criminal offense and the police have powers to prosecute. However, a victim can take control of matters by instructing lawyers with a view to protecting their position in the civil Courts.

For more information or advice on this topic, please contact Liam Tolen.

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