Laws Against NCII and Image-Based Abuse Around the World
In the last few years, digital hate crimes and gender-based violence have increased, with the potential to grow as technology advances worldwide. This disproportionately affects people of color, women, girls, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized communities. Sexual assault and harassment and domestic abuse continue to intersect with image-based abuse.
In this article, learn about how legislations around the world are working to address these issues, with insight into forthcoming laws poised to come into effect as soon as spring 2023.
Addressing NCII around the world
Non-consensual intimate imagery (NCII) is any sexual content distributed without the depicted person(s) consent. NCII is commonly referred to as “revenge pornography” since it is typically distributed by the depicted party’s former/current partner in an attempt to exploit or humiliate them.
Image-based sexual abuse tends to go unnoticed by lawmakers around the world. As cases start to come to light and the growing amount of NCII is distributed, there are a handful of judicial systems establishing regulations addressing criminal and civil protections.
There are no current UK laws against image-based sexual abuse. The Online Safety Bill, projected to be in effect by Spring 2023, includes protections against non-consensual intimate imagery. The Bill would make it illegal to distribute sexual material to which the depicted party did not consent and require online platforms to remove content that includes such revenge porn.
The United States has not set protections against image-based abuse in federal law. Despite this, 38 out of 50 states have enacted individual laws addressing non-consensual image-based abuse, with varying priorities on some or all kinds of this material. The state of California in particular has recently passed the Age Appropriate Design Code Act to protect children under the age of consent from certain online harms, while not specifically targeting NCII, the law could indirectly protect them from NCII and child sexual abuse material (CSAM) related crimes.
Countries in the European Union
November 16, 2022, the EU Digital Services Act came into force, defining ‘illegal content’ which includes “the unlawful non-consensual sharing of private images.” The act requires online platforms to remove such material immediately while setting fines in place for non-compliant services. Non-consensual intimate imagery is among the many forms of illegal content focused on in the DSA, which you can read in detail about here.
In 2021, the Australian government imposed fines of up to $555,000 AUD on internet service providers who fail to remove abusive content under the Online Safety Act. This law includes the removal of abusive content like non-consensual intimate imagery. While service providers are held federally responsible for non-removal, the criminal code for the distribution of non-consensual imagery is a state-by-state case.
Canada enacted the Intimate Images and Cyber Protection Act 162.1 in 2018, criminalizing the non-consensual distribution of intimate images and cyberbullying. Dispute resolution, mediation, and restorative justice are all provisions of the Act. Offenders are now punished by up to 5 years in prison.
Ireland officially enacted the Harassment, Harmful Communication, and Related Offenses Act (also known as “Coco’s law”) in 2020. Now, sharing of non-consensual intimate images is criminalized. For this law, there are two separate instances of NCII, “intent to cause harm” and “no specific intent to cause harm.” The former would give an offender an unlimited fine or a maximum penalty of 7 years in prison whereas the latter begets a class A fine or a maximum sentence of 12 months or both in the District Court.
Amended in 2022, the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act of 2018 made all distribution or possession of digital intimate imagery and any pornography illegal. Kenyan perpetrators are subject to both civil and criminal proceedings when victims choose to either file a civil suit for an invasion of privacy or a criminal suit for wrongfully distributing intimate images.
Mexico criminalized all forms of nonconsensual distribution of intimate imagery in 2021 with the “Olimpia Law,” named after an image-based sexual abuse victim and advocate. Those who break this law face a penalty of up to 6 years in prison. In addition to jail time, criminals are fined up to 90 thousand pesos. Before the federal law was passed, 19 of 32 Mexican states already established pornography laws protecting women from these crimes in particular.
The Ministry of Gender Equality in South Korea considers “digital sex crimes” to be photos or videos of a person’s whole or partial body without their consent. This crime results in up to a maximum of 5 years in prison and a fine of no more than 30 million won.
Non-consensual intimate imagery typically doesn’t stop at the onset of the crime. The nature of NCII is that the content is often digitally re-distributed over and over, revictimizing the depicted individuals that did not consent to publicize themselves in a compromising state - but this doesn’t mean that all hope is lost.
These images and videos usually make their way onto various social media, pornography, and other platforms’ websites where they continue to spread across the internet. Keeping this illegal content off of platforms is important, and with the digital landscape rapidly progressing, adopting advanced technology is the best way to quickly identify and remove NCII.