England: Law Commission calls for downblousing and deepfakes to be criminalised
A broad new offence of intimate image abuse should be introduced in England and Wales to criminalise acts such as “downblousing” and the creation of “deepfakes”, the Law Commission of England and Wales has proposed.
The law reform body has called for a clearer legal framework broadening the scope of intimate image offences so all instances of intentionally taking or sharing intimate images without consent are criminalised, regardless of motivation.
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.
The changes would bring England and Wales in line with Northern Ireland, which created a specific offence of downblousing as part of wider sexual offence reforms earlier this year, and Scotland, where it has been criminalised as a form of voyeurism since 2009.
As well as extending and simplifying the law, under the reforms, all victims of abuse would receive lifetime anonymity. Widening these important protections would help empower victims to report and support prosecutions, the Law Commission says.
Professor Penney Lewis, the law commissioner for criminal law, said: “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.”
Emily Hunt, campaigner, advocate for victims of sexual offences and independent adviser to the Ministry of Justice, added: “The 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.
“Taking or sharing sexual or nude images of someone without their consent can disrupt lives and inflict lasting damage. A change in the law is long overdue, and it’s right that under these proposals, all perpetrators of these acts would face prosecution.”