Law Commission proposes reforms to protect victims of intimate image abuse

July 6, 2022

Following consultation, the Law Commission of England and Wales has made new recommendations to strengthen the law to protect victims of intimate image abuse. The new rules aim to make it easier to prosecute those who take or share sexual, nude or other intimate images of people without their consent.

The UK government asked the Commission to undertake a thorough review of the laws around intimate image abuse. 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. The Law Commission says that widening these important protections would help empower victims to report and support prosecutions.

The reforms in more detail

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:

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.

There would also be 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.

It would also be an offence to install equipment such as a hidden camera, 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.

It is now for the UK government to review and consider the recommendations and provide an interim response.