In July the Law Commission of England and Wales published new recommendations seeking to protect victims of intimate image abuse by strengthening the law in this area.
In 2019 the Law Commission was asked by the MOJ to carry out a review of existing criminal law as it relates to taking, making and sharing intimate images without consent. This has of course been a growing problem in modern society with the increased use of smart phones and technology, which makes it so much easier to take, make and/or share images of others without their consent. Obviously the sharing of intimate images gives rise to very different concerns, involving as it does images of the person being potentially naked, engaged in sexual activity of where the image is taken up a person’s skirt or down a blouse.
Media coverage of the non-consensual taking and sharing of intimate images over recent years has clearly demonstrated the harm and lasting impact that this can have on the victims with many suffering psychological harm, impaired physical health and financial harm. There have been occasions where sadly the psychological harm has been at such an extreme level that it has caused people to self-harm and attempt suicide.
At present there is no single criminal offence in England and Wales that governs the taking, making and sharing of intimate images without consent and what laws are in place are not really fit for purpose as they were mostly enacted before the widespread use of the internet and smartphones.
While under the current law acts such as “upskirting” or voyeurism are criminalised, the recommendations provide that the law be extended to cover the act of “downblousing”, as well as the sharing of altered intimate images of people without their consent, including pornographic deepfakes and “nudified” images.
The recommendations also call for all victims of abuse to receive lifetime anonymity as the Law Commission is of the view that this protection will encourage victims to report the abuse in the first place and thereafter to engage fully in the prosecution of such offences. It is also recommended that all victims of these crimes would be eligible for special measures if they have to give evidence at trial.
The recommended reforms would bring in a “base” offence for intimate image abuse, supplemented by three additional offences for more serious conduct (i.e. such as 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 a further offence for installing equipment (i.e. such as a hidden camera in order to take intimate images without the consent of the other person).
Emily Hunt, campaigner, advocate for victims of sexual offences and independent adviser to the Ministry of Justice, said: “The Law Commission’s reforms on anonymity are a vital step for securing greater protection for victims of intimate image abuse and would encourage more people to come forward to report 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’s right that under these proposals, all perpetrators of these acts would face prosecution.”
It is now a matter for the Government to review and consider the recommendations made by the Law Commission.