UK Law Commission recommends criminal reforms surrounding non-consensual sexual images
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UK Law Commission recommends criminal reforms surrounding non-consensual sexual images

The Law Commission of England and Wales Thursday released new recommendations for reforming the criminal code surrounding the taking and sharing of non-consensual sexual images. In England and Wales only “upskirting” and voyeurism are criminalized, but other offenses such as “deepfakes” (putting someone’s face on an existing pornographic video), “downblousing,” and “nudifiying” images (adding someone face to an existing pornographic image) are not. The proposed reforms would criminalize all of these actions when done without consent.

The proposed system would begin with a base level offense, creating or distributing intimate images purposefully without consent, or knowing consent is unlikely. Currently this base offense can only be prosecuted if the images are shared with intent “to cause humiliation, alarm or distress to the victim or to obtain sexual gratification.”

However, the new system would remove motivation from the base offense and only include it to justify adding further charges. The base offense would be punishable by up to 6 months in prison and, if the offense is done with the intent to cause humiliation or sexual gratification, the second tier offense would be punishable by three years in prison. The reforms also include guarantees of absolute right to privacy and anonymity for victims.

Professor Penney Lewis, the Law Commissioner for Criminal Law, advocated for the reforms, saying:

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.

Victim’s advocate Emily Hunt also said “[t]he 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.”

However, other advocates have said the reforms are not enough. Vanessa Morse, the CEO of Cease (Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation) stated:

Crucially, pornography platforms must be made, by law, to verify the age and consent of those featured in uploads. This is the only way that nonconsensual material will be prevented from being uploaded in the first place, and it has already been adopted as a policy by Mastercard. The government has the opportunity to impose these changes on the pornography industry through the online safety bill, but it is currently choosing not to. This is a grave mistake.