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Sharing intimate images without consent

This advice applies to Scotland

Overview

Non-consensual sharing or threatening to share a picture or video that shows someone whose genitals, buttocks or breasts are exposed or covered only with underwear, or shows them taking part in or present during a sexual act, is a crime in Scotland. This can include so called "revenge porn".

This criminal behaviour could be prosecuted under a number of different offences, such as breach of the peace or threatening and abusive behaviour. From 3 July 2017 there is also a specific criminal offence of sharing or threatening to share intimate images or videos without consent in Scotland. There is a similar offence in England and Wales.

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

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

If someone has shared private images or videos of you, or is threatening to share them, follow these steps. 

If you are under 18, see the section on images or videos of children under 18

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.

The method of taking a screenshot (a saved image of everything showing on the screen of your phone, laptop or tablet at that time) will be different depending on the make and type of device you own. For instructions on taking screenshots on some common devices, see www.facebook.com/help.

You can block people on social media if they are harassing you. For a guide to blocking someone on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, see home.bt.com

Contact the police 

Call 101 or speak to someone at your local police station. Find your local police station at www.scotland.police.uk. Victim Support Scotland can help you to report the crime. More information is available on their website at www.victimsupportsco.org.uk.

The police will firstly have to determine whether it is a matter they can investigate 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 has 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

Having your privacy breached is very distressing and is a form of abuse. Call 0800 027 1234 to speak to someone confidentially at Scotland's Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline. Call 0808 801 0327 to speak to someone confidentially at Men's Advice Line. See also Speak to someone about relationship abuse. If you are under 18, see Images or videos of children under 18.

See Contacting the police: what happens next for information about support for victims of crime and advice for going through the criminal court process. 

Report the images/videos to have them removed from the internet

See How to ask for images and films to be removed from websites. Wait until the police say it is 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.

As part of their investigation, if the alleged perpetrator is located in Scotland, they will interview them and seize any relevant evidence they may have, for instance on their phone or laptop. They will 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 this behaviour is considered a crime in that country. There is a similar offence against sharing intimate images or videos without consent in England and Wales. 

If the person who has 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, such as finding an alternative place to live. You should also speak to someone about domestic abuse.

If the police decide that a crime has been committed, they will hand everything related to the investigation to the Procurator Fiscal, who will decide whether to charge the person with the crime. 

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

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 at www.mygov.scot. 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 at www.mygov.scot

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 their website at www.victimsupportsco.org.uk

What is the crime?

It’s not a crime to send intimate images or videos of yourself privately to another person if you are both consenting adults. It is 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

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 are 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, subsequent sharing of the photo by other people would not be a crime. 

A person found guilty of this offence 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.

What is an intimate photo or film?

Intimate photographs or films are:

  • films or images which feature a person doing or present during a sexual act that is not something that would normally be done in public, or 
  • where a person’s genitals, buttocks or breasts are exposed or covered only with underwear. 

An image or film could be:

  • photos or videos in a digital format (for example, on a messaging app like Whats app)
  • photos or videos on a mobile phone
  • 'hard copy' or printed photos, including negatives
  • data stored electronically on a hard drive or disk
  • copies of the originals (including screenshots)
  • photographs and films that have been digitally enhanced or manipulated, but not material that is wholly computer-generated
  • sexual images sent by text message ("sexts").

Intimate texts or emails, without images, are not covered under this offence, although, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case, 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, like sexts, 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 at www.disrespectnobody.co.uk.

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 offences.

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 have sent or received sexual images or videos. Phone 0800 1111 or see the Childline website at www.childline.org.uk for online chat.

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. 

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

If you have shared someone else's private, intimate images or videos you should seek advice from a solicitor who specialises in criminal law. See Using a solicitor. You may be eligible for legal aid to help with the costs of a solicitor. See Help with legal costs. 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 seize 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 detained or arrested by the police

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. Otherwise it may interfere with the criminal case.  

It is possible to identify which websites include an image by doing a reverse image search. There is more information here: 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. See tips for how to contact a website’s webmaster here: support.google.com. The webmaster does not have to agree to your request. If the image is hosted on several different websites, you may need to try to contact each webmaster.

There is more information about how to remove an image from popular search engines here: support.google.com

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

To report on Facebook: www.facebook.com 

To report on Twitter: support.twitter.com

To report on Snapchat: support.snapchat.com

To report on Tumblr: www.tumblr.com

To report on the Instagram app: help.instagram.com.

There are some companies that charge fees to provide a content removal service, 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. 

Internet Service Providers cannot be prosecuted under this offence.

Speak to someone about domestic abuse

Sharing intimate images and videos without consent is a form of abuse. It may take place as part of an abusive intimate relationship. Abusers may share or threaten to share intimate images as a tactic of control and abuse.

See Domestic abuse for more information.

To speak to someone confidentially about domestic abuse you may be experiencing, contact your local Women’s Aid service, which can be found via the Scottish Women’s Aid website at www.scottishwomensaid.org.uk, or contact the Men’s Advice Line. 

The Scottish Women's Rights Centre provides free legal advice to women affected by Gender Based Violence. For example, they can assist you to secure protection orders to protect you from further abuse.  

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

Scottish Women's Rights Centre
Helpline: 0808 801 0789 (Tuesdays 6-9pm, Wednesdays 1.30pm-4.30pm)
Website: www.scottishwomensrightscentre.org.uk

Men's Advice Line (MALE)
Helpline: 0808 801 0327 (Monday to Friday from 9.00am to 5.00pm)
Email: info@mensadviceline.org.uk
Website: www.mensadviceline.org.uk

Staying safe online

You can get more information about staying safe online at www.getsafeonline.org

There is more information for children and young people about staying safe online on the Childline website at www.childline.org.uk.

Women's Aid has tips for keeping yourself safe on Twitter and Facebook, available at www.womensaid.org.uk.

Police Scotland has tips about keeping safe on social media and internet dating at www.scotland.police.uk

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