LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – People whose intimate images are shared online without their consent could win anonymity in British courts like other sexual abuse victims, under a government-backed review of “revenge porn” laws launched on Wednesday.

Sharing private sexual photos or videos without consent became a crime in 2015, with a maximum sentence of two years in prison. Most victims are women, often targeted by former partners seeking to extort or humiliate them.

“Taking, making and sharing intimate images without consent causes distress and can ruin lives,” David Ormerod, Criminal Law Commissioner with the independent Law Commission, which is carrying out the review, said in a statement.

“If the criminal laws are not up to scratch, we will propose reform that protects victims more effectively from this criminal behavior.”

Revenge porn is a growing concern around the world. In March, social media giant Facebook said it would use artificial intelligence to combat revenge porn by removing accounts that are responsible for spreading those images.

South Korea has been in the grip of a “spycam” epidemic, where secret footage of sex, nudity and urination is shared online, while a woman in Italy died by suicide in 2016 after being harassed when intimate videos of her were posted online.

The UK review will also examine whether current laws address emerging trends, such as “deepfake” porn where someone’s face is superimposed on pornographic images without their consent and “cyber-flashing” – sharing unsolicited sexual images by phone.

There were 464 prosecutions for revenge porn in 2017/18, according to Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service.

Sophie Mortimer, manager of Revenge Porn Helpline in Britain, said the offence should stop being classed as a communications crime, which allows victims to be identified.

“We would strongly encourage a move to make the disclosure of private images a sexual offence, guaranteeing victims anonymity and giving the necessary reassurance to come forward and make formal complaints,” she said in emailed comments.

Mortimer added that the organization had received about 4,500 cases since the helpline was launched in 2015, but with greater awareness, more victims were coming forward.

Rachel Krys, co-director of End Violence Against Women Coalition, said the review – which will report back in mid-2021 – would take too long to catch up with rapidly evolving technology.

“Given the speed of technological change, how quickly online abuse evolves and how harmful it is right now, this is completely unacceptable,” she said, in a statement.

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