Young adults stand to benefit most from this bill
Content warning: This article discusses sexual exploitation and suicide.
Relationships come in many different forms, with a wide array of intimate connections possible in the age of social media, dating apps, and online communication platforms. A side effect of this is the sharing of intimate images. While sending explicit pictures back and forth may seem fun and risque, there are reasons to worry about what happens if they fall into the wrong hands. The digital age has allowed for revenge porn and sextortion to flourish, often with disastrous consequences.
Laws and government policy have been slow to address this trend. There have been no clear or easy avenues for which victims of non-consensual image sharing can stop the spread of pictures or have them taken down off websites. Likewise, it can be very hard to bring charges or even civil cases against perpetrators unless a minor is involved.
However, the B.C. government just introduced a new bill that can help to deal with this situation. The bill is called the Intimate Images Protection Act and it is meant to provide justice to people who have had their images exploited or shared without consent. The bill was introduced into the legislature on March 6, but it has not yet been voted on or formally established. However, there is no doubt in my mind that such a bill should be unanimously supported.
There are various reasons why people, especially UVic students, should look forward to having some measures in place to deal with these situations. The case of Amanda Todd is familiar to many people. She committed suicide after being lured and harassed to reveal herself to a stranger who saved her intimate pictures and used them to blackmail and bully her. The case was so horrible that it led to legislation that expanded the scope of bullying to account for cyberbullying.
However, in recent years, not much has changed. Predators use different tactics to lure people into sharing intimate content so that they can extort their victims, usually for money. In Victoria, sextortion cases rose in 2022, and the victims of such instances have mainly been young men, with 59 per cent of cases filed by teenage boys and young adult males. This percentage only grows when considered nationally, as 92 per cent of cases across the country last year involved the exploitation of young men and boys.
This is a statistic that hits close to home for me. In my hometown of Surrey, B.C., a 14-year-old hockey player named Robin Janjua died by suicide this February and the RCMP are investigating whether he was a victim of sexual exploitation. According to news sources, his death may have involved the sharing of an intimate image.
There are too many cases where private content or intimate messages are used to exploit young adults who don’t have a course of action towards justice.
I know there are critics who would say that the government should not make policy regarding our private lives. But the people who are victims of this form of exploitation need to have a sense that they can go to police and lawyers, seek justice, and actually find it. As young adults, we are more likely than most to send intimate images to others, whether coerced or with mutual consent. A bill such as the Intimate Images Protection Act is important because it can protect students and youth from being extorted and provide a way to remove and de-index content that is shared without consent, and ultimately allow the abused to take back control.