‘Misogynistic’ sexually explicit ‘deepfake’ images named as new offence after reforms to Online Safety Act

Crafting doctored sexually explicit images of adults called ‘deepfakes’ will now be deemed an offence, after reforms to the UK’s Online Safety Act. Those convicted will face prosecution and an unlimited fine. Actress Emma Watson and US Politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have both been the victim of AI deepfake pornography and have spoken openly about the emotional impact of the ordeal. 

The new offence will apply to adults over 18, and those who create what he government is calling ‘horrific’ images without the consent of the person depicted, will face a criminal record. If someone create a sexually explicit deepfake, even if they have no intent to share the image – if it causes humiliation or distress to the victim it will be deemed a criminal offence. The changes to the Online safety Act build on the ‘upskirting’ offence – where pictures are taken of a person’s intimate area without their knowledge or consent.

The Minister for Victims and Safeguarding Laura Farris has called the act ‘immoral and often misogynistic’. Women are often the subject of deepfakes and contemporary AI tools can create a large amount of images in a short amount of time. The deepfake will often look highly realistic, resulting in many women – from schoolgirls to high profile celebrities such as Pop Star Taylor Swift are being left ashamed and in some cases suicidal.

Social media sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn have been advertising ‘clothes remover’ apps and ‘AI porn tools’, where for a small fee – a person’s image can be lifted from Instagram or Facebook and manipulated to look sexually explicit.

Today’s announcement is the latest step in a huge programme of work aimed at tackling this emerging and deeply distressing form of abuse against abuse towards women and girls.

Last year, reforms in the Online Safety Act criminalised the sharing of ‘deepfake’ intimate images for the first time. This new offence, which will be introduced through an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, will mean anyone who makes these sexually explicit deepfake images of adults maliciously and without consent will face the consequences of their actions.

Minister for Victims and Safeguarding, Laura Farris, said: 

“The creation of deepfake sexual images is despicable and completely unacceptable irrespective of whether the image is shared.

“It is another example of ways in which certain people seek to degrade and dehumanise others – especially women. And it has the capacity to cause catastrophic consequences if the material is shared more widely. This government will not tolerate it.

“This new offence sends a crystal clear message that making this material is immoral, often misogynistic, and a crime.”

The government say they ‘have made it a priority to better protect women from physical, emotional and online abuse through changes to the law’.

It will also strengthen existing offences, as if a person both creates this kind of image and then shares it, the CPS could charge them with two offences, potentially leading to their sentence being increased.

The government has also re-classified violence against women and girls as a national threat, meaning the police must prioritise their response to it, just as they do with threats like terrorism – as well as ongoing work to tackle image-based abuse.

In March the first person was sentenced under the new Cyberflashing offence, which came into force in January via the Online Safety Act.

Nicholas Hawkes, who was 39 at the time of sentencing, sent images of his genitals to a 15-year-old girl and a woman, and received a sentence of more than a year in prison.

Cally Jane Beech, a campaigner and former Love Island contestant said:

“This new offence is a huge step in further strengthening of the laws around deepfakes to better protect women.

“What I endured went beyond embarrassment or inconvenience. Too many women continue to have their privacy, dignity, and identity compromised by malicious individuals in this way and it has to stop. People who do this need to be held accountable.”

Deborah Joseph, European Editorial Director of GLAMOUR said:

“GLAMOUR welcomes the Ministry of Justice’s plans to table an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, which must put the safety of women online at the centre of this conversation.

“In a recent GLAMOUR survey we found 91% of our readers believe deepfake technology poses a threat to the safety of women, and from hearing personal stories from victims, we also know how serious the impact can be.

“While this is an important first step, there is still a long way to go before women will truly feel safe from this horrendous activity.”

In 2022, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was amended to extend voyeurism offences to cover non-consensual images of breastfeeding.

As part of wider government work to protect women and girls, cowards who kill their partners with sexual violence will face longer behind bars. A new statutory aggravating factor will be brought in for offenders who cause death through abusive, degrading or dangerous sexual behaviour – or so-called ‘rough sex’.

A new statutory aggravating factor for bitter former partners who murder at the end of a relationship is also in the Criminal Justice Bill, as part of reforms following recommendations made in Clare Wade KC’s Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review – the foundation of ‘Clare’s Law’.

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