In July, the Law Commission of England and Wales published new recommendations aimed at protecting victims of intimate image abuse by strengthening the law in this area.
In 2019, the Department of Justice asked the Law Commission to conduct a review of existing criminal law regarding the taking, making and sharing of intimate images without consent. This has of course been a growing problem in modern society with the increased use of smart phones and technology making it much easier to take, create and/or share images of others without their consent. Of course, sharing intimate images raises very different concerns, involving images of the person potentially naked, engaging in sexual activity where the image is taken in a skirt or the bottom of a blouse.
Media coverage of the non-consensual taking and sharing of intimate images in recent years has clearly demonstrated the harm and lasting impact it can have on victims, many of whom suffer psychological harm, physical health and financial harm. There have been occasions when, unfortunately, the psychological harm has been at such an extreme level that it has driven people to self-harm and attempt suicide.
At present there is no single criminal offense in England and Wales which governs the taking, making and sharing of intimate images without consent and the laws in place are not really adequate their purpose because they were mostly enacted before the widespread use of the Internet and smart phones.
Whereas under current law acts such as upskirtor voyeurism are incriminated, the recommendations provide that the law be extended to the act of “downblouse”as well as sharing altered intimate images of people without their consent, including pornographic deepfakes and “nudified” pictures.
The recommendations also call on all victims of abuse to be granted lifelong anonymity, as the Law Commission believes that this protection will encourage victims to report abuse in the first place and then fully engage in the prosecution of these offences. It is also recommended that all victims of these crimes can benefit from special measures if they have to testify at a trial.
The recommended reforms would lead to a “base” offense for abuse of intimate image, supplemented by three additional offenses for more serious behavior (i.e. sharing an intimate image without consent with the motivation either to obtain sexual gratification or to cause humiliation, alarm or distress, or where the perpetrator has threatened to share an intimate image) and an additional offense for installing equipment (for example, a hidden camera for the purpose of taking intimate images without the consent of the other person).
Emily Hunt, Activist, Advocate for Victims of Sexual Offenses and Independent Advisor to the Department of Justice, said: “The Law Commission’s reforms on anonymity are a key step to provide better protection for victims of intimate image abuse and would encourage more people to come forward to report the offences. Taking or sharing sexual or nude images of someone without their consent can disrupt lives and inflict lasting damage. A change in the law is long overdue, and it is only fair that under these proposals, all perpetrators of these acts would be liable to prosecution. »
It is now up to the government to review and consider the recommendations made by the Law Commission.