Creating sexually explicit ‘deepfake’ images to become a criminal offence

Making a sexually explicit ‘deepfake’ image will become a criminal offence under a new law announced by the Government on Tuesday (April 16).

Apr 16, 2024
By Paul Jacques
Picture: IWF

Under the new offence, those who create these images without consent face a criminal record and an unlimited fine. If the image is then shared more widely offenders could be sent to jail.

The new law will mean that if someone creates a sexually explicit deepfake, even if they have no intent to share it but purely want to cause alarm, humiliation or distress to the victim, they will be committing a criminal offence.

It will also strengthen existing offences, so if a person both creates this kind of image and then shares it, the Crown Prosecution Service could charge them with two offences, potentially leading to their sentence being increased.

So-called deepfake images have become more prevalent in recent years, with images being viewed millions of times a month across the world.

The fake images and videos are made to look hyper-realistic with the victim usually unaware and unable to give their consent to being sexualised in such a way.

The announcement is the latest step in the Government’s programme of work aimed at tackling this emerging and “deeply distressing” form of abuse against abuse towards women and girls.

Last year, reforms in the Online Safety Act criminalised the sharing of ‘deepfake’ intimate images for the first time. This new offence, which will be introduced through an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, now means anyone who makes these sexually explicit deepfake images of adults “maliciously and without consent” will face the consequences of their actions.

Minister for Victims and Safeguarding, Laura Farris, said: “The creation of deepfake sexual images is despicable and completely unacceptable irrespective of whether the image is shared.

“It is another example of ways in which certain people seek to degrade and dehumanise others – especially women. And it has the capacity to cause catastrophic consequences if the material is shared more widely. This Government will not tolerate it.

“This new offence sends a crystal clear message that making this material is immoral, often misogynistic, and a crime.

“This Government has made it a priority to better protect women from physical, emotional and online abuse through changes to the law.”

As part of the Criminal Justice Bill, which continues its passage through Parliament, the Government is also creating a range of new criminal offences to punish those who take or record intimate images without consent – or install equipment to enable someone to do so.

These changes in the Criminal Justice Bill will build on the existing ‘upskirting’ offence, making it a criminal offence to:

  • Intentionally take or record an intimate image or film without consent or a reasonable belief in consent; and
  • Take or record an intimate image or film without consent, and with intent to cause alarm, distress or humiliation, or for the purpose of sexual gratification.

This offence will apply to images of adults as the law already covers this behaviour where the image is of a child (under the age of 18).

The Government has also re-classified violence against women and girls as a national threat, meaning the police must prioritise their response to it, just as they do with threats such as terrorism – as well as ongoing work to tackle image-based abuse.

In March the first person was sentenced under the new cyberflashing offence, which came into force in January via the Online Safety Act.

Nicholas Hawkes, who was 39 at the time of sentencing, sent images of his genitals to a 15-year-old girl and a woman, and received a sentence of more than a year in prison.

Cally Jane Beech, a campaigner and former Love Island contestant said: “This new offence is a huge step in further strengthening of the laws around deepfakes to better protect women.

“What I endured went beyond embarrassment or inconvenience. Too many women continue to have their privacy, dignity, and identity compromised by malicious individuals in this way and it has to stop. People who do this need to be held accountable.”

Ms Beech had found images of herself online that had been ‘distorted’ and a fake nude body superimposed on top.

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