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New crackdown on abusers who share intimate images online

A new crackdown on abusers who share intimate images online

The government has announced today a new set of laws that will better protect victims whose intimate images are put online without their consent.

The strongest amendment relates to ‘deepfakes’. This is where explicit images and videos are altered and edited so that the person(s) within the video/image looks like someone completely different. The act of ‘deepfaking’ will now be a criminal offence, meaning perpetrators could face a custodial sentence upon being found guilty.

Further changes to the law mean that the police will be able to better tackle the act of setting up hidden cameras to record people without their consent and ‘downblousing’ – where perpetrators covertly take photographs down a woman’s top without consent.

This new legislation will be a relief to many people in the United Kingdom, with 28,000 police reports being made between April 2015 and December 2021 in relation to private images being shared online without consent.

Tackling developing technology

With modern, digital technology continuing to evolve and develop, there have been concerns around the world about how abusers could take advantage of this technology. While the technology used for ‘deepfaking’ is now at such an outstanding level that it can be used to de-age actors in the film industry, it is also being abused by perpetrators. 

Abusers are now able to virtually strip women naked, with an online pornographic website that ‘specialises’ in this method receiving an alarming 38 million hits in 8 months last year.

The Law Commission has made a number of recommendations to ensure that the law evolves with this technology. There is concern about what new types of online abuse could emerge as a result of this technology. The government is set to take forward several of these recommendations, including:

  • Simplifying the law to make it easier to persecute cases.
  • Introducing a new base offence for sharing an intimate image without consent.
  • Introducing two new serious offences based on sharing intimate images with the intent to cause humiliation, alarm, or distress and for obtaining sexual gratification.
  • Introducing two new offences for installing hidden camera equipment and for threatening to share images obtained from such equipment.
  • Criminalising the non-consensual sharing of ‘deepfake’ images.

Refuge, the largest domestic abuse organisation in the UK, have responded positively to this move by the government. Ruth Davison, CEO of the organisation, said:

“Refuge welcomes these reforms and is pleased to see progress in tackling abuse perpetrated via technology. As the only frontline service with a specialist tech abuse team, Refuge is uniquely placed to support survivors who experience this form of abuse.

Tech abuse can take many forms, and Refuge hopes that these changes will signal the start of a much broader conversation on the need for strengthening the response to online abuse and harm.”

Ruth Davison, Chief Executive Officer, Refuge

Giving prosecutors the power they need

These new steps to tackle online abuse follow up on recent government action that has made upskirting, cyberflashing and breastfeeding voyeurism criminal offences. They also follow up on Rishi Sunak’s pledge to criminalise downblousing.

Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab, has said that the new legislation will give prosecutors “the power they need” to punish abusers. He said:

“We must do more to protect women and girls, from people who take or manipulate intimate photos in order to hound or humiliate them. Our changes will give police and prosecutors the powers they need to bring these cowards to justice and safeguard women and girls from such vile abuse.”

Meanwhile, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs has said:

“I welcome these moves by the government which aim to make victims and survivors safe online, on the streets and in their own homes. I am pleased to see this commitment in the Online Safety Bill, and hope to see it continue its progression through parliament at the earliest opportunity.”

Final thought

Sir Kier Starmer announced yesterday that Labour will show “zero tolerance” to violence against women should they win the next general election. This new legislation from the government goes one step further, though, protecting women online, as well as in the streets. Therefore, this move should be welcomed by all.

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