The law reforms, published following a detailed review, would make it easier to prosecute those who take or share sexual, nude or other intimate images of people without their consent.
The Government asked the Commission to undertake a thorough review of the laws around intimate image abuse, following calls for them to go further to capture a wider range of harmful behaviours.
The proposed reforms would put in place a clearer legal framework, which would broaden the scope of intimate image offences, so that all instances of intentionally taking or sharing intimate images without consent are criminalised, regardless of motivation.
The Commission’s recommendations would also update the law to cover more modern forms of abuse that are currently not offences.
Under current law, acts such as “upskirting” or voyeurism are criminalised, but this would be extended further to cover the abusive act of “downblousing”, as well as the sharing of altered intimate images of people without their consent, including pornographic deepfakes and “nudified” images.
As well as extending and simplifying the law, under the reforms, all victims of abuse would receive lifetime anonymity. Widening these important protections would help empower victims to report and support prosecutions.
Commenting on the reforms for Government, Professor Penney Lewis, the Law Commissioner for Criminal Law, said:
“Sharing intimate images of a person without their consent can be incredibly distressing and harmful for victims, with the experience often scarring them for life.
“Current laws on taking or sharing sexual or nude images of someone without their consent are inconsistent, based on a narrow set of motivations and do not go far enough to cover disturbing and abusive new behaviours born in the smartphone era.
“Our new reforms for Government will broaden the scope of the criminal law to ensure that no perpetrators of these deeply damaging acts can evade prosecution, and that victims are given effective protection.”
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.”
The Law Commission’s comprehensive new legal framework governing intimate image abuse
The recommended reforms would bring in a “base” offence for intimate image abuse, supplemented by three additional offences for more serious conduct and a further offence for installing equipment:
- A new base offence: It would be an offence for someone to intentionally take or share an intimate image of a person if they do not consent and the perpetrator does not reasonably believe that they consent.
- This base offence would apply regardless of the perpetrator’s motivation. Current intimate image offences are restricted to one or two narrow motivations: to cause humiliation, alarm or distress to the victim or to obtain sexual gratification. This would be widened to include all motivations, such as sharing intimate images for financial gain, social status or as a joke, or where there is no motivation at all. This offence could lead to a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment.
- Three additional offences for more serious conduct: where the perpetrator has taken or shared 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. These offences could lead to a sentence of two to three years’ imprisonment.
- An offence for installing equipment: it would be an offence to install equipment such as a hidden camera, in order to take an intimate image of a person without their consent.
Under the recommendations, all victims of the new offences would be automatically eligible for lifetime anonymity. Currently, only victims of voyeurism and upskirting are automatically eligible for anonymity.
All victims would also be eligible for special measures to support them giving evidence in a trial – for example, by giving evidence behind a screen, by video link or through pre-recorded evidence.
All the offences in the new framework would cover the same range of images; images that are nude, partially nude, of a sexual act or of toileting. Currently, for some intimate images it is an offence to take them but not to share them, and vice versa.