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Victims’ Commissioner responds to Law Commission proposals around intimate image based abuse

Dame Vera Baird says it is “imperative” intimate image abuse is made a criminal offence and welcomes Law Commission proposals.

The Law Commission of England and Wales has today published proposals to improve protections for victims whose intimate images are taken or shared without their consent. The Law Commission proposals include:

  • An expansion of the types of behaviours outlawed by existing criminal laws on taking and sharing intimate images without consent to include ‘downblousing’ and sharing altered intimate images, such as deepfakes.
  • Criminalising threats to share intimate images.
  • Automatic anonymity for all victims of intimate image abuse.
  • A new framework of offences better focused on this form of criminal conduct and the harm it causes.

The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC says:

The sharing of intimate images can have appalling consequences for victims, with these images often being posted online without their consent. These images are sometimes sent to the victim’s children, their parents or their employer, and frequently also posted on porn sites. This can leave victims absolutely devastated, triggering or exacerbating conditions like anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Victims have described being on the receiving end of this behaviour as like being raped repeatedly in full view of internet strangers. Victims speak of feeling unable to leave the house and feeling unable to meet anyone new because they feel sure that everyone has seen their intimate image online. But despite this impact on victims, the law has simply not kept up with the times, leaving increasing numbers of victims vulnerable and unprotected as technologies have evolved.

This behaviour is also increasingly used by domestic abusers, especially if their victim threatens to leave. It exerts a terrible grip, keeping victims in relationships with their abusers through fear and shame. I and many others have been calling for this behaviour to be criminalised in the Domestic Abuse Bill, so I am pleased to see it outlined here.

It is imperative that this behaviour, including ‘downblousing’, deepfakes and the threat to share intimate images, is made a criminal offence and I support the Law Commission’s approach to improving protections for victims of this abuse. There have been some helpful piecemeal changes, but they have left illogical gaps in the law, so I support legislation across the board for which this report lays the groundwork. Extending anonymity to cover victims of this deeply traumatising behaviour is imperative and I congratulate the Law Commission on arguing for this. We must make sure these proposals are suitably future-proofed and victims will remain protected in future, mindful of evolving technology and abusers’ changing tactics.  I encourage everyone to respond to this important consultation paper.

You can find out more about he proposed reforms on The Law Commission website.