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If your intimate photos or videos are shared without your consent

This advice applies to Scotland

Advice for adults

If someone has shared revealing or intimate photos 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

This advice is mainly for adults 18 and over. We've got specific advice if you're under 18 and your photos or videos are shared.

Save the evidence

Save message threads, images, and screenshots of websites (with the URL visible) in a secure place, like a hard-drive that's password protected. You could ask someone you trust to do this if you find it's distressing. 

A screenshot is a saved picture of everything showing on the screen. Find out how to take screenshots on different devices 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 about getting support 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 support if you've experienced for domestic abuse

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. 

At court

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. 

Block them

Once you've saved the evidence, you might want to stop anyone sharing your pictures from contacting you. You could do this by blocking them on social media and messaging apps. 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 social media users on the BT website

Organisations that can help victims

If you're under 18 there's specific support available. Check what to do if you're under 18 and your photos or videos are shared.

The Revenge Porn Helpline is for adults over 18 who've had their photos or videos shared without consent. They can help advise you about reporting to the police and getting your photos removed. 

Revenge Porn Helpline
Tel: 03456 000 459 (Monday to Friday, 10am - 4pm)
Email: help@revengepornhelpline.org.uk 
Website: https://revengepornhelpline.org.uk/

Victim Support Scotland provides emotional and practical support to victims and witnesses of all crimes. Find out how to get help on the Victim Support Scotland website

If your partner or ex-partner was the person who shared your intimate photos or videos, you may find it useful to speak to an adviser at Scotland's Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline. Read about getting support if you've experienced domestic abuse.

Scotland's Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline
Tel: 0800 027 1234
Email: helpline@sdafmh.org.uk
Website: sdafmh.org.uk

Get your photos and videos removed

Wait until the police say it's okay to do this because they may still be gathering evidence.

The following steps aren't appropriate for removing images of children under 18. These images shouldn't be viewed by anyone except specially trained organisations. Report a sexual photo or video of a child on the Internet Watch Foundation website. They'll try to have the image or video removed for you. 

There are several steps adults can take:

How to report users and content on social media

Most social media platforms let you report a user or inappropriate content directly:

If a website or app 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.

The Revenge Porn Helpline can help you get images and videos removed through it's partnerships with Facebook and other social media platforms. 

Revenge Porn Helpline
Tel: 03456 000 459 (Monday to Friday, 10am - 4pm)
Email: help@revengepornhelpline.org.uk 
Website: https://revengepornhelpline.org.uk/

In some cases you may be able to create new online content, like websites, blogs and images, to move content that you don't want others to see further down in search engine results. 

There are also some companies that charge fees to remove images and pictures from the internet for you, often called "reputation management". This can be very expensive. 

What's the crime

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 can be 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. 

Read examples of situations covered by the law on the Not Yours to Share website.

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. 

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. 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.

If you're under 18 and your photos or videos have been shared

You're protected by the law against sharing intimate images and there are also specific criminal laws to protect children. It's a crime to take, make, share or keep an indecent photo or video of a child under 18. The only exception is when 16 or 17 year olds take intimate photos with a spouse or partner and they're not shared with anyone else. 

If photos or videos of you are shared you can:

If you're worried about who you've been talking to online, speak to an adviser at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre

You can also speak to your parents or someone else you trust, like a teacher. 

If you're worried about a child

If you're worried about child abuse, grooming or inappropriate online contact, report your concerns to the NSPCC. You can do this anonymously. 

NSPCC
Helpline: 0808 800 5000 (24 hours a day, every day)
Textphone: 18001 0808 800 5000
Text messages: 88858
Email: help@nspcc.org.uk or online form to report concerns about a child
Website: www.nspcc.org.uk

You can also speak to an adviser at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre

If you've shared someone else's private, intimate photos or videos

You should get advice from a solicitor who specialises in criminal law. Try the 'find a solicitor' tool on the Law Society of Scotland's website.

You may be eligible for legal aid to help with the costs of a solicitor

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:

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