England and Wales Introduce Stricter Laws on Revenge Porn and Deepfakes, But Are They Strong Enough?

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In a long-awaited move, England and Wales have made considerable amendments to the Online Safety Bill. These changes facilitate the prosecution of individuals involved in sharing 'revenge porn' and, for the first time, criminalize the sharing of 'deepfake porn.'

However, as I delve into the specifics, I, Nikki Webb, argue that the prescribed penalties might not go far enough in serving as an effective deterrent.

Under the revised Online Safety Bill, it’s no longer necessary for prosecutors to prove the perpetrator's intent to cause distress, thereby simplifying the route to secure a conviction. The sharing of deepfake porn, which involves creating and sharing explicit images or videos without the consent of the individuals depicted, is also now criminalized.

Offenders face up to six months in prison, which can increase to two years if intent to cause distress, alarm, humiliation or sexual gratification is demonstrated. Additionally, individuals sharing images for sexual gratification might find themselves on the sex offenders' register.

UK Justice Secretary Alex Chalk heralded the amendments as a crackdown on those who manipulate or share intimate photos with the intention to harass or demean women and girls. He affirmed that the changes equip police and prosecutors with the necessary powers to pursue such offenders.

While these developments are certainly commendable, as a writer dedicated to social justice and online safety, I am compelled to question the adequacy of the prescribed penalties. A six-month sentence seems rather lenient given the devastating and often enduring impact these crimes have on victims.

I would have liked to see a more stringent initial sentence, significantly higher than six months, to send a robust message regarding the gravity of these violations. The psychological toll on victims of revenge porn and deepfakes is immeasurable, and the sentencing should reflect the severity of the crime.

Moreover, experts have pointed out that there are still challenges ahead. Honza Červenka, a lawyer at McAllister Olivarius, has highlighted jurisdictional issues, mentioning that some websites may not be easily traceable or could be hosted in countries with lax laws concerning online harassment.

Rani Govender from the NSPCC has also called for big tech firms to be held more accountable for content posted on their platforms, especially those involving child exploitation.

I personally think that while the amendments to the Online Safety Bill are undoubtedly a step in the right direction, I believe we need to re-evaluate the sentencing to ensure it is commensurate with the severity and impact of the crime. Strengthening the legislation further would help to safeguard victims and serve as a staunch deterrent to potential offenders.

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