New intimate image abuse laws announced

31 Jan 2024 UK SIC

As of January 31st 2024, reformed intimate image laws have come into force across England and Wales, making it easier to charge and convict someone of sharing or threatening to share intimate images without consent.

The updated and long-awaited amendments have been introduced as part of the Online Safety Act, and will see legislation involving intimate image abuse be included in the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Key Changes:

  • The prosecution no longer needs to prove intent to cause distress when intimate images have been shared non-consensually.
  • It will be a serious offence to share intimate images with the intent to cause distress, alarm, or humiliation.
  • There is a further serious offence if the images are shared for sexual gratification.
  • Individuals will be granted lifelong anonymity.
  • Deepfakes are now covered under law.

Stronger Sentencing

The stricter laws will ensure that anyone who shares or threatens to share intimate images online without consent in England and Wales could face jail time. As part of the updated legislation, the new ‘base’ offence of sharing an intimate image without consent or reasonable belief in consent could see perpetrators face a maximum of 6 months imprisonment.

More serious offences will be included as part of aims to strengthen sentencing, with anyone who shares an intimate image with intent to cause alarm, distress, or humiliation facing a maximum of two years imprisonment. Anyone who shares an intimate image without consent, or a reasonable belief of consent, to obtain sexual gratification could face two years imprisonment and be subject to the sex offenders register.

The new legislation will also strengthen the offence of threatening to share an intimate image without consent with the intent that the victim (or someone who knows them) will believe it will be carried out or is reckless to the fact that they will fear it is carried out. The change will mean that regardless of whether the intimate image exists, these threats could receive a maximum of two years imprisonment.

Improved Protections

Alongside this, the new legislation will provide individuals affected with more support and protection by ensuring lifelong anonymity and eligibility for special measures during the trial process. The updated laws will also expand the nature of what is considered an intimate image, including images that show, or appear to show, sexual acts, nudity, or partial nudity.

Within these updates will be the much-anticipated inclusion of deepfakes. Deepfakes, or intimate images that have been made or altered with computer graphics to replace the likeness of one person with another, will now be included within the Sexual Offences Act 2003. These changes will ensure that anyone sharing or threatening to share digitally altered intimate images without consent can be convicted.

The amended laws are a significant moment in the history of the Revenge Porn Helpline (operated by partners SWGfL and delivered by the UK Safer Internet Centre), which has worked tirelessly since 2015 to support thousands of people affected by intimate image abuse, helping to remove over 300,000 intimate images online. Sophie Mortimer, Revenge Porn Helpline Manager at SWGfL, shares her thoughts:

“We are delighted to see the implementation of revised laws coming into effect from today on the sharing of intimate images without consent. The Revenge Porn Helpline supports thousands of people every year whose lives are affected by this abusive behaviour and we know all too well of the devastation that can be caused.

The UK has been at the forefront of developing responses to intimate image abuse which has been demonstrated by the willingness of government to make substantial changes in the law to respond to abusive and harmful behaviours that are evolving quickly. We anticipate that these changes will provide more support to more people and will mark the start of the cultural change for everyone to understand that this practice isn’t just unacceptable but illegal and carries very serious consequences.”

Being threatened to have your intimate images shared? Who Can Help?

Any adult 18+ who has had their intimate images shared, or threatened to be shared, can contact the Revenge Porn Helpline for support and advice. The Helpline, which has supported thousands of people affected by intimate image abuse, can be contacted by calling 0345 6000 459, or by emailing help@revengepornhelpline.org.uk

The Helpline also provides plenty of information, anonymous contacting options, and a 24/7 chatbot to access support on its website, which can be visited at revengepornhelpline.org.uk.