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Sharing intimate images without consent

This advice applies to Scotland

This page explains what to do if someone shares images or videos without your consent, and what to do if you've shared this content. This information applies to Scotland only. 

If someone has shared private images or videos of you, or is threatening to share them, this is a crime in Scotland. There are steps you should take.

If you're under 18, see the section on images or videos of children under 18 instead. 

Keep 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 too distressing. 

If you don't know how to take a screenshot (a saved picture of everything showing on the screen at that time) on your device, there are instructions on taking screenshots on some common devices on Facebook's help centre.

Once you've saved the evidence, you might want to stop them contacting you further. You can block people on social media if they're harassing you. There's a guide to blocking someone on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram on the BT website

Contact 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. More information is available on the Victim Support Scotland website.

The police will decide whether they should investigate it as a potential criminal offence. You can read more about the specific criminal offence of sharing or threatening to share an intimate photo or film in Scotland under What is the crime.

If the person who's shared or threatened to share your private images or videos is someone you know or have been in a relationship with, the police can advise what other legal steps can be taken to protect you against further abuse. 

See Contacting the police: what happens next

Get help and support

If you're under 18, see Images or videos of children under 18.

Having your privacy breached is very distressing and may be part of an abusive intimate 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.

See our advice on domestic abuse for more information.

Report the images/videos to have them removed

See How to ask for images and films to be removed from websites. Wait until the police say it's okay to do this. 

Contacting the police: what happens next

If the police consider this to be a criminal matter, they will investigate. They may ask you to provide any evidence you have gathered, and take your statement.

If the alleged perpetrator is located in Scotland, they'll interview them and seize any relevant evidence they may have, for instance on their phone or laptop. They'll also take a statement from any other witnesses.  

If the alleged perpetrator is located outside Scotland, the police may have to involve the relevant police authorities in that country. Whether action will be taken may depend on whether it's considered a crime in that country. There's a similar offence against sharing intimate images or videos without consent in England and Wales. 

If the person who's shared or threatened to share your private images or videos is someone you know or have been in a relationship with, the police can advise what other legal steps can be taken to protect you against further abuse. See Domestic abuse for information on the options available to you. 

If the police decide that a crime has been committed, they'll hand everything related to the investigation 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. There is more information about being a witness on the Scottish Government's mygov.scot website

You may be able to give evidence behind a screen or by video link (known as "special measures") as a vulnerable witness. For more information, see the mygov.scot website.

Victim Support Scotland provides support to victims and witnesses of crime, including talking you through the court process and organising visits to familiarise you with the court. More information is available on the Victim Support Scotland website

If you are unhappy about any aspect of police behaviour, you can make a complaint. See Complaints and legal action against the police. A bureau adviser can help you to do this - where to get advice

What is the crime

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 if they show them or send them to another person, upload them to a website, or threaten to do this, without your consent. This includes so called revenge porn

This criminal behaviour could be prosecuted under a number of different offences, such as breach of the peace or the specific criminal offence of sharing or threatening to share intimate images or videos without consent in Scotland. There's a similar offence in England and Wales.

The Scottish Government provides some examples of situations covered by the offence at notyourstoshare.scot.

Sharing the image or video means giving, showing or making the film or image (or data) available to another person. 

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 an intimate photo of themselves and uploads it to a public website, sharing of the photo by other people would not be a crime. 

Internet Service Providers can't be prosecuted under this offence.

What is an intimate photo or video

Photos or films are intimate 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 - but not material that is wholly computer-generated
  • sexts - sexual images sent by text message.

Texts or emails, without images, are not covered under this offence. They may be covered under another offence 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. For more information about what consent means in a healthy relationship, see the Disrespect Nobody website.

No matter why an image or video was taken or sent, most people do not expect or consent to them being shared more widely. As a general rule, you should treat any images or videos you receive as private. Don’t share them, upload them or show them to others.

There is a defence for the crime if you can show that the person in the images or videos consented to them being shared, or you "reasonably believed" that consent was given. This is something you would need to provide evidence for in court. 

There is also a defence if the person in the image or video chose to put themselves in an intimate situation in public, such as streakers or naked protesters.

Revenge porn

So called "revenge porn" is the term sometimes used by the media to describe when a partner or ex-partner publishes or threatens to publish intimate images or videos of a person without their consent, in order to cause them harm and distress. This is a form of abuse. In some cases personal contact details are given which leads to the victim being harassed or puts the victim in danger. 

Images or videos of people under 18

In the UK, you must be 16 to consent to any sexual activity. Taking or sharing intimate images or videos of anyone under 18 (subject to some exceptions for partners in established relationships) is child abuse and will be dealt with under other criminal law.

To report child abuse call Police Scotland on 101 or the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000. See Child abuse for more information about reporting 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 images or videos. Phone 0800 1111 or use online chat on the Childline website.

If you're under 18 you can report an explicit image or video of yourself directly to Childline and the Internet Watch Foundation at contentreporting.childline.org.uk. They'll try to have the image or video removed for you. You'll be asked to verify your age. 

If you have shared someone else's private, intimate images or videos

If you've shared someone else's private, intimate images or videos you should get advice from a solicitor who specialises in criminal law

You may be eligible for legal aid to help with the costs of a solicitor. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau will be able to provide help and a list of solicitors in your area - where to get advice

The police may take away your phone, laptop or other possessions during an investigation. See Police powers to stop and search, enter private property and seize goods

If you are arrested or detained by the police you have certain rights. See If you are arrested and held in custody by the police in Scotland

What happens if you're taken to court for sharing intimate images

You may be tried in either:

  • the sheriff court - under summary proceedings
  • the high court - with a jury, under solemn proceedings, if the offence is very serious. 

A person found guilty under summary proceedings in the sheriff court can be sentenced to up to 12 months in prison and/or a fine of up to £10,000. A person found guilty of this offence under solemn proceedings can be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. 

How to ask for images and films to be removed from websites

Wait until the police say that you can ask to have the images or films removed so it doesn't interfere with the criminal case.  

You'll need to find out which websites have a copy of the image or video. It's possible to find an image on other websites by doing a reverse image search. There is more information at support.google.com.

To have images or videos removed from a website, you will most likely need to contact the owner of the website, called the webmaster. There are tips for how to contact a website’s webmaster at support.google.com. The webmaster doesn't have to agree to your request. If the image is hosted on several different websites, you may need to contact each webmaster.

You can also try to have the image removed from search engines like Google. There is more information about how to remove an image from popular search engines at support.google.com

Most social media sites allow you to report a user or inappropriate content directly:

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

If you are under 18 you can report an explicit image or video of yourself directly to Childline and the Internet Watch Foundation at contentreporting.childline.org.uk. They will try to have the image or video removed for you. You will be asked to verify your age. 

Staying safe online

You can get more information on the Government's Get Safe Online website.

There is more information for children and young people about staying safe online on the Childline website.

Women's Aid has tips for keeping yourself safe on Twitter and Facebook on their website

There are tips about keeping safe on social media and internet dating on the Police Scotland website.

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