If your intimate photos or videos are shared without your consent
If someone has shared revealing or intimate images or videos of you, or is threatening to share them, this is a crime in Scotland. There are steps you can take. If you're not sure if what's happened is a crime, check What's the crime.
Sharing images and videos of children is very serious and dealt with under different law. If you're under 18, read more about photos or videos of children and young people.
Save the evidence
Save message threads, images, and screenshots of websites (with the URL visible) in a secure place, such as a password protected hard-drive. You could ask someone you trust to do this if you find it's distressing.
If you don't know how to take a screenshot (a saved picture of everything showing on the screen) on your device, there are instructions on taking screenshots on Facebook's help centre.
It's best not to delete anything until you've reported it to the police. There might be other evidence they need.
Report it to the police
Call 101 or speak to someone at your local police station. Find your local police station on the Police Scotland website.
Victim Support Scotland can help you to report the crime. Find out more on the Victim Support Scotland website.
The police will decide whether they should investigate your case. You can read more about the criminal offence of sharing or threatening to share an intimate photo or film in Scotland under What's the crime.
What happens next
If the police think a crime might have taken place, they'll investigate. They might:
- gather evidence - you'll be asked to give them any screenshots, texts or emails and they might seize the accused person's laptop and phone
- take statements - from you and any other witnesses about what happened
- interview people - they'll question you and the person you've identified as sharing the photos, separately
- involve the police in other countries - if the accused doesn't live in Scotland
- advise on other action you can take - if the person is your partner or ex-partner there are other legal protections against further abuse. Read more about Domestic abuse for the options available to you
If the police decide that a crime has been committed, they'll hand everything to the Procurator Fiscal, who'll decide whether to charge the person with the crime.
If the case goes to court you may have to give evidence as a witness, but you might be able to do this behind a screen or by video link. Read more about being a witness on the mygov.scot website.
A case can be heard in either:
- the sheriff court
- the high court - with a jury, if the offence is very serious
A person found guilty can be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison and an unlimited fine.
If you're unhappy about any aspect of how the police handle your case, you can make a complaint. Read more about complaints and legal action against the police.
Once you've saved the evidence, you might want to stop anyone sharing your pictures from contacting you. Check with the police before you do this.
You can block people on social media if they're harassing you. There's a guide to blocking someone on social media on the BT website.
Get help and support
Victim Support Scotland provides support to victims and witnesses of crime, including talking you through the court process and organising visits to the court. Find out more on the Victim Support Scotland website.
If you're under 18 there's specific support available - see Images or videos of children under 18.
Having your privacy breached is very distressing and may be part of an abusive relationship. Abusers may share or threaten to share intimate images as a tactic of control and abuse. Call 0800 027 1234 to speak to someone confidentially at Scotland's Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline or 0808 801 0327 to speak to someone confidentially at Men's Advice Line. Read our advice on domestic abuse for more help.
Report the photos/videos to have them removed
Wait until the police say it's okay to do this. There are several steps adults can take:
- find out which websites have a copy of the image or video - try a reverse image search. Find out how on the Google support website
- contact the owner of each website - they're called the webmaster. You can ask them to remove the photo or video although they don't have to agree. Find out how to contact them on the Google support website
- report users or content on social media
- ask search engines to remove images - find out how on the Google support website
If the photos or videos have been shared very widely and are on lots of websites it can be difficult to track them down and you might find it distressing. There are some companies that charge fees to remove images and pictures from the internet for you, often called "reputation management". This can be expensive.
These steps aren't appropriate for removing images of children. If you're under 18 you can report a sexual photo or video of yourself directly to on the Internet Watch Foundation website. They'll try to have the image or video removed for you. You'll be asked to verify your age.
How to report users and content on social media
Most social media platforms let you report a user or inappropriate content directly:
- Facebook - see the facebook help centre
- Twitter - see the Twitter help centre
- Snapchat - see snapchat support
- Tumblr - see the tumblr community guidelines
- Instagram - see the instagram help centre
If a website refuses to remove your photos or videos
The webmaster doesn't have to agree to remove the photo or video.
If they don't you could contact them again, with representation from a lawyer or Citizens Advice Bureau adviser. Explain the situation and that the photos or videos are part of a criminal investigation. This may persuade them to remove them.
In some cases you may be able to create new online content, like websites, blogs and images, to 'bury' content that you don't want others to see by moving it further down in search engine results.
The law comes from the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016. There's a similar offence in England and Wales.
It’s not a crime to send intimate images or videos of yourself privately to another person if you're both consenting adults.
It's a crime to show intimate images or videos, send them to another person, upload them to a website, or threaten to do this, without your consent. This includes so called 'revenge porn'.
Revenge porn is a form of abuse. It's a way for someone to control their partner or ex-partner. In some cases personal contact details are given which leads to the victim being harassed or puts the victim in danger.
The person sharing the image or video must have meant to cause fear, alarm or distress, or was reckless as to whether it would cause this. Recklessness means that it was a foreseeable result of their actions.
It's not a crime to share intimate photos or videos if they're already in the public domain with the consent of the person in them. For example, if a person takes a sexual photo of themselves and uploads it to a public website, people sharing the photo wouldn't be committing a crime.
What kind of photos and videos are covered
Photos or films are "intimate" and covered by the law when they show:
- a person doing or present during a private sexual act
- genitals, buttocks or breasts - exposed or covered only with underwear.
An image or film could be:
- in a digital format (for example, on a messaging app like WhatsApp)
- on a mobile phone
- 'hard copy' or printed - including negatives
- stored electronically on a hard drive or disk
- copies of the originals - including screenshots
- digitally enhanced or manipulated - meaning images that are Photoshopped, but not images that are completely computer-generated
- sexts - sexual images sent by text message
Texts or emails, without images, aren't covered by the law. They may be covered under another crime such as 'threatening or abusive behaviour'. You should still contact the police on 101 or speak to someone at your local police station.
What is consent
Images or videos may be sent willingly to another person as part of a healthy relationship. No one should be coerced or forced to send these. Read more about what consent means in a healthy relationship on the Disrespect Nobody website.
No matter why an image or video was taken or sent, most people don't expect or want them being shared more widely. As a general rule, you should treat any photos or videos you get as private. Don’t share them, upload them or show them to others.
There's a defence to the crime if the person in the images or videos consented to them being shared, or you "reasonably believed" that they consented. This is something you would need to provide evidence for in court.
There's also a defence if the person in the image or video chose to put themselves in an intimate situation in public, like streakers or naked protesters.
In the UK, you must be 16 to consent to any sexual activity. Taking or sharing intimate photos or videos of children or young people is usually considered child abuse and will be dealt with under other criminal law. There are some exceptions for partners in established relationships.
To report child abuse call Police Scotland on 101 or the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000. Read more about reporting child abuse and where you can get help.
Childline has advice and counselling about sexting for young people under 18, including getting help if you've sent or received sexual photos or videos. Phone 0800 1111 or use online chat on the Childline website.
If you're under 18 you can report a sexual photo or video of yourself directly to on the Internet Watch Foundation website. They'll try to have the image or video removed for you. You'll be asked to verify your age.
The police may take away your phone, laptop or other possessions during an investigation. Read more about police powers to stop and search, enter private property and seize goods.
If you're arrested or detained by the police you have certain rights. Read more about being arrested and held in custody by the police in Scotland.
Staying safe online
There are lots of resources for staying safe online and protecting your private data including:
- safe online dating - read more on the UK Government's Get Safe Online website or Police Scotland's website
- children and young people - read more on the Childline website
- protecting yourself from online and digital abuse - find tips on the Women's Aid website