Image-based abuse: Perpetrators could face 2-year jail term under new rules

Perpetrators of image-based abuse could face up to two years in prison under new amendments to the Online Safety Bill announced by the Ministry of Justice.

While the current law requires the prosecution to prove that perpetrators shared sexual images or films to cause distress, the new rules mean those who share intimate images without consent could face up to six months in prison.

The Ministry of Justice hopes that removing the need for lawyers to prove the intention of distress will make it easier to charge and convict someone who shares intimate images without consent. Those found guilty of this base offence have a maximum penalty of six months in custody.

However, where it is proven a perpetrator also intended to cause distress, alarm, or humiliation, or to obtain sexual gratification, they could face a two-year prison term. Offenders found guilty of sharing the image for sexual gratification could also be placed on the sex offender register.

The reforms follow the campaigning of Georgia Harrison, who was the victim of image-based abuse at the hands of her former partner, and Dame Maria Miller MP as well as recommendations from the Law Commission, to introduce reforms to the laws covering the abuse of images.

“We are cracking down on abusers who share or manipulate intimate photos in order to hound or humiliate women and girls, said Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk KC:

“Our changes will give police and prosecutors the powers they need to bring these cowards to justice, safeguarding women and girls from such vile abuse.”

Campaigner Georgia Harrison said:

“The reforms to the law that has been passed today are going to go down in history as a turning point for generations to come and will bring peace of mind to so many victims who have reached out to me whilst also giving future victim’s the justice they deserve.

I’m so grateful to everyone who supported me throughout this campaign and it just goes to show how amazing our country is that the government have reacted so quickly to push through these amendments.”

What’s more, for the first time, the sharing of “deep fake” intimate images – explicit images or videos which have been digitally manipulated to look like someone else – will also be criminalised.

Minister for Technology and the Digital Economy Paul Scully said:

“The unsolicited sharing and manipulation of intimate photos is a cowardly and revolting thing to do and has an absolutely devastating impact on the lives of women and girls across the UK.

The Online Safety Bill will make the UK the safest place in the world to be online. These new laws set a global standard for bringing justice to those who share these images, protecting women and girls from this shocking abuse.”

The government said research shows one in seven women and one in nine men aged between 18 and 34 have experienced threats to share intimate images, with more than 28,000 reports of disclosing private sexual images without consent recorded by police between April 2015 and December 2021.

Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs said:

“Intimate image abuse causes significant distress to victims and survivors, and often exists as part of a wider pattern of abuse that continues offline.

I am pleased to see these changes in the Online Safety Bill that will hold perpetrators to account for this insidious form of abuse and hope to see it pass soon.”

Ruth Davison, CEO of Refuge, said:

“Refuge welcomes these amendments to the Online Safety Bill. Intimate image abuse is a multifaceted and complex form of domestic abuse, which can be perpetrated in many ways. In 2021, threatening to share intimate images was criminalised, following the success of Refuge’s ‘The Naked Threat’ campaign.

At Refuge, we know that conviction rates for intimate image abuse remain woefully low. The amendments to the Online Safety Bill announced today will make it easier to prosecute perpetrators of intimate image abuse, ensuring justice and better protections for survivors.”

The government has committed to bringing forward wider reforms around intimate images, following the Law Commission’s detailed review, as soon as parliamentary time allows.

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