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. The amendments will make a significant difference to those impacted by intimate image abuse, broadening the scope of intimate image offences, and removing the current requirements for the prosecution to prove that perpetrators shared sexual images or films to cause distress.
- 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 the purpose of sexual gratification.
- Individuals will be granted lifelong anonymity.
- Deepfakes are now covered under law.
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.
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, 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.”
To learn more about the new legislation and the support available, we have provided some further information below.
What Counts as an “Intimate Image”?
The new amendments will broaden the scope of what can be considered an ‘intimate image,’ ensuring that any ‘sexual’ images taken in private spaces will be covered under the updated laws.
This will mean that underwear images taken in private settings, or where privacy would be reasonably expected, will now be protected under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
Will the Law Cover Digitally Altered Images?
The new laws will ensure that anyone who shares, or threatens to share, a manufactured or altered image that appears to show another person in an intimate state will face the same consequence of the law. These changes will help to ensure the law can stay relevant and adapt to the evolving nature of technology and digital privacy concerns.
When and Where Do the Laws Apply?
The new legislation within the Sexual Offences Act 2003 will only take effect in England and Wales from the 31st of January 2024. Any offence committed after April 2015 and before the 31st of January will not be retrospectively applied and will fall under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015.
Intimate image laws differ across the United Kingdom, with Northern Ireland and Scotland having separate legislation for intimate image abuse. Find out more about the different laws on our website.
What are the Limitations of the Online Safety Act?
Whilst the latest amendments are an important step forwards for many people affected by intimate image abuse, there are still limitations that we hope to see addressed going forward.
Currently, there are instances where some providers will not remove non-consensual intimate images, particularly when they are outside the scope of the Online Safety Act. SWGfL would like to see all non-consensual intimate images classified as illegal, with the power to remove and block this content from being shared across the internet.
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 our Revenge Porn Helpline for support and advice. Our Helpline, which has supported thousands of people affected by intimate image abuse, can be contacted by calling 0345 6000 459, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We are open Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm.
Our Helpline also provides plenty of information, anonymous contacting options, and a 24/7 chatbot to access support on our website, you can find out more about intimate image abuse on our advice pages.
Alongside this, anyone aged 18 or over, who wishes to protect and prevent their intimate images from being shared without their consent across online platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Bumble, Reddit, Only Fans, Snap Inc., Threads and Aylo, can use StopNCII.org.
StopNCII.org can help people prevent the sharing of their images across partnering platforms by creating digital hashes of intimate images (including deepfakes or synthetic content) on their own devices. Find out more by visiting StopNCII.org or by watching the official video.