Law Commission consults on proposals
Proposals to improve protections for victims whose intimate images are taken or shared without their consent have been published by the Law Commission of England and Wales. The proposals include:
- An expansion of the types of behaviours outlawed by existing criminal laws on taking and sharing intimate images without consent to include ‘downblousing’ and sharing altered intimate images, such as deepfakes.
- Criminalising threats to share intimate images (including other forms of ‘sextortion’).
- Automatic anonymity for all victims of intimate image abuse.
- A new framework of offences better focused on this form of criminal conduct and the harm it causes.
The non-consensual taking and sharing of intimate images can have a significant and long-lasting impact on victims. The harms they experience are serious and significant. These can include psychological harm such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), worsening physical health and financial harm either through time off work or through withdrawing from online spaces which reduces access to networking opportunities. In some cases, there have been reports of attempted suicide and self-harm.
However, the law has not kept up with this behaviour, resulting in significant gaps that have left victims unprotected. These gaps include:
- Inconsistency over what type of intimate images are covered. For example, upskirting is currently a criminal offence but downblousing is not. Sharing an altered image – usually involving adding someone’s head to a pornographic image is also not covered.
- Not all motivations for non-consensually taking or sharing an image are covered by current laws. Whilst motivations such as sexual gratification and causing distress are covered (although not consistently), other motivations such as sharing the images as a joke or to coerce an individual are not covered at all.
- Threats to share are not adequately covered, especially when a threat was made to humiliate, coerce, control or distress an individual.
The Law Commission’s proposals, which are now being consulted on, aim to ensure that victims are adequately protected from a range of behaviours related to non-consensual taking and sharing of intimate images. The provisional proposals include a new framework of four offences which would cover a broader range of behaviours and motivations.
The Law Commission believes a new framework of offences is needed to cover the behaviours identified in the Consultation Paper. The proposed framework would provide a more unified and structured approach, providing victims with better protection and ensuring that appropriate orders are available to the courts when dealing with these offences.
The Law Commission is consulting on these proposals and wants to hear from a range of stakeholders including victims, experts and lawyers. The consultation period will close on 27 May 2021, following which, the Law Commission will use the responses to help develop final recommendations for reform.
To find out more about the project, to read a summary or to read the full report, click here.
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