The UK government has announced a move to bring in tougher laws against ‘revenge porn’, including criminalising deepfaking someone into a sexual video without their consent.
The proposed amendments to the Online Safety Bill will mean that those who share ‘deepfakes’ – sexual or intimate images or videos that have been made to look like someone else – will be criminalised specifically for the first time.
That means that those found guilty will potentially face a prison sentence.
There are also additional laws to be created that will aim to crack down on other forms of ‘revenge porn’, including installing hidden cameras or other equipment to record or take pictures of people without their consent.
‘Downblousing’ – where an abuser takes a photograph of someone down their top – will be amongst the forms of abusive behaviour that will become easier to prosecute.
The move means that more people who commit intimate image offences will face prosecution and could face jail time.
Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Justice Dominic Raab said: "We must do more to protect women and girls, from people who take or manipulate intimate images in order to hound or humiliate them.
"Our changes will give police and prosecutors the powers they need to bring these cowards to justice and safeguard women and girls from such vile abuse.”
Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs added: “I welcome these moves by the government which aim to make victims and survivors safer online, on the streets and in their own homes.
“I am pleased to see this commitment in the Online Safety Bill, and hope to see it continue its progression through Parliament at the earliest opportunity.”
Statistics suggest that one in 14 people across England and Wales has been threatened with the release of intimate images.
Between April 2015 and December 2021, 28,000 reports of private sexual images being disclosed without consent were made to police.
Ruth Davison, the CEO of domestic abuse charity Refuge, said: “Refuge welcomes these reforms and is pleased to see progress in tackling abuse perpetrated via technology.
“As the only frontline service with a specialist tech abuse team, Refuge is uniquely placed to support survivors who experience this form of abuse.
“We campaigned successfully for threatening to share intimate images with intent to cause distress to be made a crime, via the Domestic Abuse Act, and these reforms will further ensure police and law enforcement agencies rightly investigate and prosecute these serious offences.
“Tech abuse can take many forms, and Refuge hopes that these changes will signal the start of a much broader conversation on the need for strengthening the response to online abuse and harm.”
In a video to support the proposed law changes, intimate image abuse victim Zara McDermott described what happened to her as ‘life shattering’.
McDermott was one of the stars of Love Island, but has had intimate images of her circulated online on two occasions – once when she was underage - and took part in a discussion with other survivors about her experience.
She said: “I was a victim of image based sexual abuse when I was 14 and then again when I was 21.
“This is an area that I feel really passionately about.
“To be honest, it's devastating. It's actually life shattering. It is the most awful experience.
“This happened to me for the first time when I was 14 years old. I was pressured into sending a photo of myself to a boy in my year.
“He convinced me that it wasn't going to go anywhere, and he really liked me.
She continued: “It ruined my whole life.
“I still think back to that a lot and remember what a different person I may have been if that didn't happen to me.
“When it happened again when I was 21, I felt like I've done this before, I can do it again.
“Fortunately, the rules, the laws had changed in that time.
“When I was 14, I was actually suspended from school because of what happened to me.
“At the time it felt like I was the perpetrator of my own crime and I was vilified because I had sent that image and I'd created child pornography - and I was actually told that in my school and by authorities.
“When it happened again at 21, it was it was a crazy experience because I expected all of that when I was 14.
“But actually things have changed in society.
“I remember I came out of Love Island after this happened to me."
“I came out and people were actually saying ‘oh, poor Zara’ and saying ‘this is really awful that this happened to her’.
“I'm actually not a criminal, and I and I've criminalised myself for so long.
“It's really sad the effect that [it] had and there being no laws around it at the time and what an effect that had.
“Now I've been able to have that closure on that time in my life all these years later, because I realised I wasn't the person that did anything wrong.
“This is why this conversation is so important, because I want to get the word out there.
“I don't want anyone to go through what I went through, that kind of feeling of shame and that feeling of self-blame and thinking you've done something so wrong and you should be so embarrassed.
“I want to bridge that gap of knowledge, tell people that this is a crime."
You can hear the full story of three victims including Zara McDermott by following this link.
Featured Image Credit: Tom Vaughan-Mountford-Alamy PA/Alamy
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