BC Introduces Bill to Combat Non-Consensual Sharing of Intimate Images
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On March 7, the provincial government introduced the Intimate Images Protection Act which provides new ways to deal with the non-consensual sharing of intimate images.
Sharing intimate images without consent is already illegal at the federal level. Section 162 of the Criminal Code makes the sharing of such images a criminal offence. For example, if a boyfriend saved intimate images of his girlfriend but decides to share those pictures with his friends without her consent, that would run afoul of the federal law. That boyfriend could be prosecuted under the Criminal Code.
However, there is little the government can do once the photos are shared, besides punishing the person who posted the images. This new legislation allows the government to force individuals to delete the images or force internet companies to delete the photos. The legislation also allows victims to seek damages from a court or tribunal from the offender.
This problem was of particular concern in British Columbia a few years ago. In 2010, teenager Amanda Todd exposed her breasts to a man she met online. He screenshotted the image and shared the images online, going so far as to send the photos to her high school classmates through social media. After several months of trying to deal with the shame of these photos, Amanda eventually committed suicide. She was only in grade 10.
This Intimate Images Protection Act is a good piece of legislation that would help to combat sexual extortion and online bullying. About half the other Canadian provinces and territories have similar legislation. However, this legislation could go further. It rightly sees harm in the sharing of non-consensual intimate images, but it fails to address the consumption of sexually explicit photos. While the distributor of the photos can be sanctioned, there is no penalty for anyone who remains in possession of non-consensual sexually explicit material nor is there any incentive to report such illegal behaviour. These two deficiencies could be addressed in the Act. Furthermore, the Intimate Images Protection Act continues to view most sexually explicit material as permissible as long as it is consensual. As long as someone consents to the sharing of intimate images of their body, all is lawful.
Consent in sexual matters is important and necessary, but more is needed. Scripture speaks about sexual intimacy being reserved for within the boundaries of marriage. Even within that context, Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness after the Fall (Genesis 3). Ham was cursed by God for inappropriately witnessing the nakedness of his father Noah (Genesis 9). Jesus commands us to clothe the naked (Matthew 25) and Paul often admonishes against indulging in porneia (usually translated as “sexual immorality” but from which we get the English word pornography; e.g. 1 Corinthians 7:2, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Galatians 5:19).
By focusing solely on consent around sexually explicit content, legislation like this misses an opportunity to address an equally important discussion of what is the proper context for sexual intimacy. It also ignores the growing evidence that the preponderance of sexually explicit material – whether produced consensually or non-consensually – is a public health issue associated with loneliness, anxiety, poor mental health, increased sexual aggression, and dissatisfaction with romantic relationships. Efforts are ongoing at the federal level to crack down on pornography. The provincial government needs to join the fight.
Take a moment to send an EasyMail to your elected representative at the British Columbia legislature, encouraging them to support this bill but also encouraging them to take greater steps to combat the much larger issue of pornography.
If you want to learn more about the issue of pornography and sexually explicit material and the societal harms associated with it, check out our policy report on pornography.