People who share downblousing and deepfake images may now face jail time

Sharing deepfake and downblousing images without consent will soon become a crime, and offenders may face jail time under new anti-abuse measures unveiled by the Ministry of Justice today.

People who share ‘deepfake’ and ‘downblousing’ images without consent will soon be prosecuted and may face jail time under a raft of new legal measures announced by the Ministry of Justice today.

The move, designed to better protect victims of revenge porn, will criminalise deepfakes – the act of sharing explicit images or videos that have been manipulated to look like someone without their consent. It will also outlaw downblousing, whereby photos are taken down a woman’s top, again without consent. 

The amendment to the Online Safety Bill comes amid a disturbing surge in technology, including hidden cameras and editing software, used to make and share fake pornographic images.

It will take the form of a series of new offences, including sharing an intimate image without consent – as well as the more serious charge of doing so based on intent to cause humiliation, alarm or distress and for obtaining sexual gratification.

In addition, people who share non-consensual deepfake images or threaten to do so will also face prosecution, along with those who install equipment that enables such images to be taken. 

The new laws follow years of lobbying from victims and survivors of abuse, including Emily Hunt, who was filmed naked in a London hotel room while unconscious in 2015.

“They [the police] told me it was not against the law to video someone naked if you were in the same room as them,” Hunt told the BBC earlier this year. “I started campaigning, trying to let politicians know that they need up-to-date laws. The current ‘patchwork’ of criminal offences has not kept pace with how technology is evolving.”

The amendments have emerged in line with other, similar crackdowns on breastfeeding voyeurism – a crime that now comes with a possible jail sentence of two years – and cyberflashing, a category amended earlier this year to carry the same maximum sentence as indecent exposure.

Upskirting, the highly intrusive act of someone taking a picture under another person’s clothing without their consent, was also made illegal in 2019, in the wake of a social media campaign by activist Gina Martin. “I was angry that every woman I knew had a story of being sexually harassed in some way. I needed somewhere to put my frustration,” she said at the time.

Around one in 14 adults in England and Wales have experienced a threat to share intimate images, with more than 28,000 reports of disclosing private sexual images without consent recorded by police between April 2015 and December 2021.

Ruth Davison, CEO of Refuge, welcomed today’s announcement from the government. “Refuge welcomes these reforms and is pleased to see progress in tackling abuse perpetrated via technology,” she said. “Tech abuse can take many forms, and Refuge hopes that these changes will signal the start of a much broader conversation on the need for strengthening the response to online abuse and harm.”

The new laws will now progress through parliament as part of amendments to the Online Safety Bill. 

If you or someone you know is a victim of online abuse or revenge porn, contact the police to report a crime, visit Refuge or call their freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247. You can also find advice via their specially designed tech safety tool.  

Images: Getty

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