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Released On 17th Dec 2022

New online safety legislation helps victims of `deepfaking' 

The internet and its prolific use over the last 20 years has produced some of the most interesting and educational advances ever, but has also spawned some of the most hideous offences.

The practice of `upskirting', sharing intimate images and `deepfaking' has meant that thousands of individuals, overwhelmingly women and girls, have unwittingly become the victims of shared and manufactured sexual images.  Upskirting is the practice of installing cameras – usually on mobiles – to take intimate photos of women and girls.  The sharing of intimate photos often arises when an intimate photo falls into the wrong hands and is shared around the internet, often landing up on porn sites.  Deepfaking is now relatively easy using sophisticated editing software to digitally edit and create pornographic images from normal photos.

It is deeply distressing for the victim and very difficult to stop given the ease in which intimate photo can be taken, shared and manipulated.  There is an abundance of software that can edit otherwise innocuous photos to make and share fake images or videos of a person without their consent.  These are usually pornographic in nature and can appear on main stream porn sites or even invade other social media sites across the world.  It is reported that a website that allows the viewer to “virtually” strip naked images of women, received 38 million hits in the first 8 months of 2021.  Around 1 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.

On 25 November 2022 the Government brought new laws into play under the Online Safety Bill.  The new laws will create a new offence to crack down on abusers who take and share intimate photos online without the victim’s consent.  Further amendments will tackle the practice of installing hidden cameras to take secret pictures of victims, changing or going to the toilet. 

The laws have drawn some criticism, not in terms of their intended purpose, but because of the law of unintended consequences and the potential to criminalise and therefore stifle freedom of expression.  For instance, some social media sites have raised concerns that the new laws will mean they have to screen every single message and photo the platform publishes, in case there is illegal content.  There is talk in the digital media industry of the need to employ “client-side scanning”.  This is a controversial surveillance method which allows some digital media companies to automatically screen everyone’s private chats, messages, texts, images, videos and speech sent from that ‘client’s’ phone for suspicious content which could then automatically be reported to the police.  There is also the hypothetical risk that once client side screening is common place, it could be subject to “scope creep” and used not just for illegal content, but to “spy” on everyone.  A right wing Government “Think Tank” is quoted as saying that whilst the Online Safety Bill has noble intentions, it is a major threat to freedom of speech, as it will incentivise firms to remove much legitimate and legal content for fear of multi-billion-pound fines, and threaten the privacy of millions of Britons

Unlike a sexual assault involving physical abuse, you may feel that imagery offences are something that should be “brushed off”.  However, research repeatedly shows the offences to be deeply distressing and humiliating.  Offenders usually take, make and share the images out of vindictiveness, for sexual gratification, or to blackmail an individual.

Is there anything that you can do if you suspect you are the victim of shared or manufactured intimate images?

Firstly you must report the offences to the police.  There are a range of current offences that are likely to cover your situation and the police will try and secure a conviction.

Compensation may be recoverable if the images were taken at, for instance a school, place of work or other organisation.  The principle of vicarious liability means that an employer is liable to compensate the victim of sexual offence if they were committed by someone sufficiently connected to the organisation and on site.

To secure compensation the victim must usually suffer from a “recognised psychiatric injury” as a result of learning about and possibly viewing the illegal images.

At Robson Shaw Solicitors we instruct a large number of eminent and empathetic clinicians including both male and female Consultant Psychiatrists and Clinical Psychologists to evaluate our client’s mental health issues and to prepare report upon their diagnosis and prognosis.  Often client’s will be traumatised by their experiences and suffer from PTSD, depression and a range of other mental health problems.  Your compensation can then be assessed by reference to the severity and duration of your mental health problems.

We have acted for a number of clients who have been the victims of indecent sexual images.  One of our recent claims involved a pupil at a prestigious school in Yorkshire.  The pupils were subject to sexual assaults and following a unexpected inspection at the school, over 500 cameras were discovered across the site.  In another case, former teacher and senior Housemaster Thomas Ball had become infatuated with a teenage boy and installed a hidden camera in a bathroom to take secret photos of his victim in the shower.  Ball ultimately admitted three counts of making indecent images of children and downloading prohibited images, but initially denied taking covert video footage of the boy, installing the camera and voyeurism at the school.  However, he changed his pleas to guilty.  Following Ball’s conviction he received a lengthy prison sentence. In another case, we acted for a male victim of voyeurism who had been indecently photographed by his former housemaster, Jonathan Thomson-Glover, at Clifton College. The teacher had filmed over 130 victims over a 16 year period and had installed hidden cameras at the school and his Cornish holiday home where pupils were invited to stay. The police found some 300 VHS tapes containing 2500 hours of secret footage.  

For a free, no obligation and confidential discussion about this or any matter involving sexual abuse with one of our specialist solicitors, please call Robert Shaw 01392 345332 or Samantha Robson 01392 345331.  Or email us at enquiries@robsonshaw.uk