B5 Consultancy and Leigh Nicol quoted in Law Commission paper on intimate image abuse
On 7th July 2022, the Law Commission published their final report and recommendations around existing criminal law relating to taking, making and sharing intimate images without consent.
B5 Consultancy and Leigh Nicol have been quoted in this report multiple times. We used our clients’ experience and Leigh’s personal experience to support and suggest the recommendations in this report. We are incredibly proud to be featured and we eagerly await a response from the Government. We have included our comments bellow.
B5 Consultancy explained in great detail the emotional impact this has had on Leigh Nicol, including suicidal ideation. South West Grid for Learning noted that the harm is “instant on finding the content, and can be longlasting”.
B5 Consultancy suggested it should be an offence to send an intimate image to the
victim where there is a specific intent. They argued that such an offence would give
the police clearer powers to act even if some of the behaviours may fall under the
existing communications offences. They detailed the experiences of their colleague,
and footballer Leigh Nicol, whose intimate images (including images from when she
was 18 years old) were stolen in an iCloud hack in 2019 and shared extensively online
ever since. Leigh describes her experiences of being sent her own images by people
online: Worse still is the unsolicited online messaging. I have an Instagram profile – this is
very usual for a professional football player and it has been something which has helped to some degree after I publicly spoke about my ordeal – but an Instagram account also allows people to send direct messages to me. The messages I regularly receive are sickening. I often receive messages from men which include references to the photos/videos, they will often send the images/photos to me, on a number of occasions I have received images or videos of the men masturbating whilst looking at my photos and an unsolicited picture of men’s penis is a regular occurrence.
B5 Consultancy also represent other sports people who have been victims of intimate
image abuse. They added “it is a profound part of the process of being a victim of this
kind of criminal sharing of intimate images that the victim will often receive a barrage
of messages from perpetrators to cause her further distress, humiliation and
degradation”. They noted there is often a malicious intent element to such behaviour:
We do not wish to criminalise well-meaning (though misguided) individuals who
send the images or videos to victims to ask the victim if they are aware of the leak.
There must be a level of criminal intent. In Leigh’s experience there was a significant
amount of criminal intent. Men sending her disturbing messages which were
designed to humiliate and degrade her and compound her agony.
Lower down the spectrum, in some circumstances sharing with the person depicted
without a specific intent can cause less harm and is less culpable conduct. We note,
for example, B5 Consultancy’s concerns about criminalising people who share an
image with the victim hoping to help by making them aware of its existence. We still
think there is potential for real harm from such behaviour. In such circumstances, the
person trying to help could have sent information about the image without sending the
image, to ascertain whether the victim would consent to be sent the image. In other
circumstances, the conduct may be even more borderline criminal. Consider an
example: A and B used to have a casual sexual relationship during which they took
and shared intimate images of each other consensually. They ended their relationship
amicably and a year later, A decided to send B a picture they had taken together of B
to remind them of the fun they shared. Although A did not have B’s consent to share
this image, it is not highly culpable behaviour. The image was taken and shared
consensually previously, B is not likely to experience the same level or type of privacy
violation that is common with other types of intimate image abuse. A may arguably
have a reasonable belief that B consented to being resent the images. Even if the
relationship had not ended amicably, an ex-partner may share intimate images taken
together during happier times with their ex for a similar reason. It may be unwelcome,
and violating, but it is less clear if this should always be a criminal offence.
B5 Consultancy shared the experiences of their colleague Leigh Nicol, a professional footballer whose intimate images were stolen and shared widely online without her consent. They noted that the motivation for sharing, by someone unknown to Leigh, was difficult to establish. They
suggested that a base offence would have provided Leigh more recourse under criminal law. Dame Maria Miller MP also welcomed the proposals stating they address the identified gaps in the current law.
As we explained above, many consultees responded to these questions by drawing
parallels with sexual offences where such orders are already available. Dr Aislinn
O’Connell and B5 Consultancy Ltd labelled intimate image abuse as a “sex crime”;
others considered it akin to rape.
One consultee, Leigh Nicol, shared her personal experience as a victim of
intimate image abuse. She is a professional footballer whose intimate images were
shared without her consent online after her phone was hacked. We were told that,
even though the sharing was clearly non-consensual, using words like “hacked” and
“leaked” when posting online, the motivation of someone unknown to her was difficult
to establish. A base offence would have offered her more protection than the current