‘Tech companies are profiting off sharing intimate images’ warns Nicky Morgan

Former Culture Secretary Baroness Morgan has blasted tech firms that profit from websites that “do nothing but exploit the distress of victims” by spreading revenge porn.

She called on big tech platforms to “do the right thing” and make the internet safer for women and girls by tackling the growth of sites that share intimate images without consent.

Baroness Morgan said: “Women and girls are finding that someone they trusted with an intimate image has abused that trust and shared those images on websites dedicated to spreading such abuse. These sites exist solely to violate consent.

“And we can see they are growing into thriving businesses. Big tech companies are enabling and profiting off this abuse even while they claim they have policies about harmful content. Instead, they could already be blocking these sites.

“Big tech companies don’t have to wait for [regulator] Ofcom to publish codes of practice or guidance or for Ministers to make regulations.

“They’ve heard the debates in Parliament and the distress of victims. They shouldn’t be waiting to be told how to behave and how to take down harmful and violating content. It is time these big tech platforms and search engines did the right thing and started to make the internet safer for women and girls by tackling the growth of sites who do nothing but exploit the distress of victims of this particular online crime.”

Abusers, predators and bitter ex-partners who share intimate images online without the consent of those depicted will face jail time under measures announced by the Government in June.

New amendments to the Online Safety Bill removed the requirement for prosecutors to prove that perpetrators shared sexual images or films in order to cause distress.

This makes it easier to charge and convict someone who shares intimate images without consent – putting more offenders behind bars and better protecting the public.

Those found guilty of this base will have a maximum penalty of 6 months in custody. And where it is proven a perpetrator also intended to cause distress, alarm or humiliation, or to obtain sexual gratification, they could face a 2-year prison term.

The sharing of “deep fake” intimate images – explicit images or videos which have been digitally manipulated to look like someone else – will also be criminalised.

Jess Eagelton, a policy and public affairs manager at Refuge, said: “The sharing and threatening to share of intimate images without consent, is a form of domestic abuse which has a profound impact on survivors. It is used by perpetrators to inflict severe emotional distress and as a tool for coercive control.

“Despite it being illegal to share intimate images without consent since 2015, Intimate images can be shared at dangerously high speeds, and once shared, it can be almost impossible to get them removed from all sites.”

One in seven young women has experienced threats to share intimate images, while one in 14 adults has experienced threats to share.

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Only four per cent of intimate image abuse cases reported to the police resulted in a perpetrator even being charged, research from Refuge in January 2023 showed despite increased reporting to the police.

Ms Eagelton said: “The Online Safety Bill, currently waiting for Royal Assent, will introduce regulations for social media companies and online spaces around illegal content like intimate image abuse, which, if properly implemented, should make it easier for images to be removed and allow those who have images shared without consent to get justice.”

Sophie Compton, co-founder of My Image My Choice, told how the biggest deep fake porn site is “thriving” with 14 million views a month.

She added: “The content will supposedly become illegal when the upcoming Online Safety Bill becomes law, but without a robust enforcement regime, huge tech companies are still going to be marking their own homework, and deciding if they consider this large-scale abuse of women falls under their self-defined category ‘harmful’. Meanwhile, this abuse normalises misogyny across society.”

-The National Domestic Abuse Helpline can be reached for free and in confidence, 24-hours a day at 0808 2000 247.

Former Love Island star Georgia Harrison has called for an end to women “feeling abused, violated and ashamed” as victims of revenge porn.  

Her ex-boyfriend Stephen Bear, 33, was sentenced to 21 months in jail in March for secretly filming a sexual encounter with Georgia on CCTV in his garden and then uploading it online.

Ms Harrison,28, said: “The sharing of intimate images without consent, whether threatened or actual, is a serious and violating crime. 

“Sadly, like many others, I know firsthand the devastating impact that intimate image abuse, or so-called ‘revenge porn’ has on women and girls.  

“Over the last few years, I’ve spoken with countless other women who have had intimate images shared without their consent, and while the support and solidarity from them has been amazing, it is heartbreaking to see how widespread this form of abuse continues to be.    

“It is also devastating to see how low conviction rates for intimate image abuse are. Earlier this year, I got justice for my case, but I know that this is not the reality for most other women.”

She added: “It is my hope that the Online Safety Bill, on which I campaigned alongside organisations like Refuge to get better protection for women and girls, will help ensure better protections against intimate image abuse and allow those who have images shared without consent get justice.”

Bear shared a sex tape – which had been captured on CCTV on August 2, 2020, in his garden without her knowledge – on the adult website OnlyFans and made £2,000 from it.  

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