Potential jail time for posting ‘deepfakes’ and ‘downblousing’

Sophie Gradon opens up about 'horrific' online abuse

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Today’s announcement saw an amendement to the Online Safety Bill to include the criminalisation of nonconsensual ‘deepfake’ pornography and ‘downblousing’ when it returns to parliament in December. The proposed bill targets the use of hidden cameras to take explicit photos without someone’s consent. It also aims to criminalise those who take clandestine photos down a woman’s top — ‘downblousing’. This amendment follows on from a previous law to ban ‘upskirting’ — the practice of taking photos up someone’s skirt without their consent.

A ‘deepfake’ is a video manipulated without the victim’s consent, typically copying and pasting a woman’s photo into a pornographic video. 

Kate Isaacs, one of the co-founders of the campaign #NotYourPorn, was the victim of online sexual abuse. She tells the Express how she was “devastated” when a ‘deepfake’ video was circulated online.

Isaacs told the Express the deepfake was created as a means to intimidate her after a successful campaign against the proliferation of non-consensual videos on PornHub.

She said: “I started the campaign [with co-founder Elena Michael] in 2019 after a friend ended up on PornHub without her consent and it was really hard to get moderators to remove the video.

She continued: “I started researching content moderation and found it quite shocking that PornHub profits from content where people in the video had not consented to have their images shared. After our campaign, we got 10 million videos taken down which saw PornHub deleting 80% of its content because it was unverified. 

“Because so much was taken down it meant I was a target on Twitter for a small and loud minority of men who weren’t happy that this porn had been removed.

“They attempted to silence me by publishing my work and home address online and threatening to rape me. Then they superimposed my image onto a porn video. I am not anti-porn but I am anti-nonconsensual porn. [This tactic was used because they] wanted to shame me, silence me and intimidate me into not campaigning.”

For Isaacs having her image manipulated was terrifying. 

She continued: “I was devastated and scared and at first I didn’t know if it was real. Later [although] I could tell it was a deepfake I wasn’t sure if others could. It was really scary. It was a violation of my sexuality and identity and a form of sexual abuse.” 

The new laws are intended to protect women and girls who are more likely to be the victim of sexual assault with 1 in 4 women being the victim of rape or sexual assault compared to 1 in 20 men, according to statistic from the charity Rape Crisis England and Wales. 

Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab, said: “We must do more to protect women and girls, from people who take or manipulate intimate photos in order to hound or humiliate them.”

“Our changes will give police and prosecutors the powers they need to bring these cowards to justice and safeguard women and girls from such vile abuse.”

Other victims of downblousing and deepfakes report the videos are created in a bid to terrorise them. The domestic abuse charity Refuge shared a report on Wednesday stating social media companies are still failing women who are victim to online sexual assault. 

The report found “Abuse and harassment on social media is one of the most commonly reported forms of tech abuse seen by Refuge’s tech abuse team.”

Emma Pickering, Manager of Refuge’s technology-facilitated abuse team said: “Survivors are currently experiencing huge problems when they report online abuse and harassment to social media platforms. 

“Often there are long waits for responses which can be distressing, and during which time abuse continues and can escalate, forcing women to feel they have no option but to come offline. 

“Other times social media companies respond to say the content flagged does not breach the platform’s community standards, when the content is clearly abusive, harassing or intimidating. 

“No woman should be forced offline because social media companies are failing to address abuse perpetrated on their platforms. Domestic abuse is a crime, and the lack of legislation and regulation of online spaces is endangering women and girls.”

Like Isaacs, Love Island star Zara McDermot was the victim of online sexual abuse as a teenager. McDermot appeared in a panel at Downing Street last night with Isaacs where she said she was the victim of image-based sexual abuse at 14 and again at 21. 

McDermot said: “To be honest it’s devastating and actually life shattering. This happened to me for the first time at 14-years-old when I was pressured to send a photo to a boy in my year. [After he shared the image] It ruined my life up until I was 18.

“The photo went to all my peers, teachers and was printed out on desks. I think back on that and think what a different person I would have been if it wouldn’t have happened. When I was 14 I was actually suspended from school. At the time I was vilified because I had sent the image, as if I was the perpetrator of my own crime.”

The hope is that these new laws can make it easier for police to prosecute individuals who have shared deepfake videos or sexually explicit images online without consent. 

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, said: “I welcome these moves by the government which aim to make victims and survivors safer online, on the streets and in their own homes.

“I am pleased to see this commitment in the Online Safety Bill, and hope to see it continue its progression through Parliament at the earliest opportunity.”

For Isaacs, seeing the return of the Online Safety Bill in Parliament is a priority. 

She said: “I welcome the legislation proposals that predominantly affect women and girls but it’s proposed legislation not law. 

“The online safety bill has been shelved again and again. Unfortunately this is also the sort of crime that relies on technology that changes rapidly. 

“I’m optimistic but cautious, it’s a step in the right direction and it’s worth celebrating to a degree but we will only win once it’s made into law and we bring back the online safety bill rather than letting these tech companies profit from sexual abuse.” 

The threat of online sexual abuse is pervasive. The Government reports 1 in 14 adults in England and Wales have experienced this threat. Between April 2015 and December 2021 the police recorded 28,000 reports of private sexual images being shared without consent.

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