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New legislation aims to protect against sharing of intimate images without consent

VICTORIA – To better protect people from the harmful effects of having their intimate images shared without their consent and improve access to justice for survivors of sexualized violence, the province is introducing the intimate images protection act.

“Having your intimate images shared without your permission is a betrayal that can have devastating impacts,” said Niki Sharma, Attorney General, in a news release. “Victims are often too ashamed to come forward and those who do are met with limited, complex and expensive legal options. We are building a path to justice for people to regain control of their private images and hold perpetrators to account.”

Incidents of sharing intimate images without consent are under-reported due to stigma, embarrassment and a prevailing presumption that there’s no meaningful avenue for redress. However, research indicates the numbers are increasing.

In 2020, Statistics Canada reported an 80 per cent increase in incidents reported to police of non-consensual sharing of intimate images across the country compared to the previous five years.

Between 2014 and 2020, 48 per cent of youth victims of non-consensual distribution of intimate images were victimized by an intimate partner or a friend. For more than 36% of youth victims, the accused was a casual acquaintance.

“For some young people, the embarrassment and ridicule that can come with the distribution of personal, intimate images can be all-encompassing,” said Carol Todd, whose teenage daughter Amanda died by suicide 10 years ago due to cyber-bullying and online sexual exploitation. “I hope this legislation helps young people connect to the supports they need to take back control of their lives and from taking action against crimes, such as sexual exploitation, for such a long time.”

The effects of having one’s intimate images shared without consent are wide-ranging and long-lasting. Often, people remain trapped in abusive relationships due to a partner’s threats to distribute intimate images. People who have experienced this type of sexualized violence report feeling depressed, humiliated or grief-stricken. The trauma can become overwhelming.

The legislation covers intimate images, near-nude images, videos, livestreams and digitally altered images, including videos known as deep fakes. If passed, the legislation will create a new, fast-track process for getting a legal decision that an intimate image was recorded or distributed without consent and ordering people to stop distributing or threatening to distribute intimate images. It will provide recourse for minors to pursue legal action to stop the distribution of their private images and will also offer a clearer, legal avenue for lawsuits to seek monetary damages for harms suffered. The legislation streamlines the process for getting images taken off the internet.

To support the legislation, the Civil Resolution Tribunal is working to expand its online portal to help people define their legal issues, provide information on their rights, access immediate self-help tools to begin remedial action and connect to community and mental-health supports.

“If someone shares your private images without your consent or threatens to share your images, you don’t need to be ashamed or afraid,” said Nick Sandor, executive director, Men’s Therapy Centre. “Young men and boys are increasingly finding themselves victims to this type of violence. But I want people to know there are supports available to help you deal with the mental-health impacts and exercise your legal options if you chose to do so.”

The intimate images protection act is part of a multi-year, cross-government action plan to help end gender-based violence.

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