VICTIMS charities and politicians have called for action after new figures revealed image-based sexual abuse crimes had more than doubled in Scotland in the last five years.

According to the Scottish Government’s annual recorded crime report, there were 530 cases where an intimate image was disclosed last year, and a further 382 incidents of the threat to disclose an image.

That compares to 421 incidents in 2017/18, and is equivalent to roughly 17 a week.

The statistics were uncovered by 1919, the justice and social affairs magazine funded by the Scottish Police Federation.

A spokesperson for Victim Support Scotland said: “The figures surrounding the increase in cases of image-based sexual abuse are significant.

“Sharing private, sexually-explicit images online or offline, regardless of the intent, is a criminal offence.

“It is a violation of privacy and many victims often feel humiliated, traumatised and ashamed.”

The charity suggested the number of recorded crimes could be far lower than the number of actual crimes, with some victims too embarrassed to report the incident to the police.

The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Act came into force in 2017, and makes it easier to prosecute those found guilty of sharing intimate images.

Those who “disclose, or threaten to disclose, an intimate photograph or film” without consent can be jailed for up to five years.

The law covers photographs or films showing people engaged in a sexual activity, or with their genitals, buttocks or breasts exposed or covered only with underwear.

Image-based sexual abuse has been a growing problem for a number of years, with sites such as Is Anyone Up, run by Hunter Moore, acting as a forum for users to share explicit images of people they knew, and then linking the photos to real social media profiles.

Many of the pictures on his site were stolen through hacks or posted by ex-partners.

Moore, who is the subject of the Netflix documentary The Most Hated Man on the Internet, was eventually jailed for aiding and abetting, hacking, and aggravated identity theft. 

His crimes led to global demand for tougher legislation around so-called revenge porn – though that terminology trivialises their experiences, say some survivors.

Despite the new laws, the sharing of intimate pictures thrives on the internet, including so-called collector culture, where men use message boards and WhatsApp to swap images and make “requests” for particular women.

The UK government’s troubled Online Safety Bill includes measures to deal with the trade by forcing search engines and social media platforms to identify and remove the offending sites.

Tech firms that do not protect users from harmful content will be subject to large fines from Ofcom.

However, the legislation faced fierce opposition in the House of Commons from Tory MPs, who believed it hampers free speech. 

It had been in its final parliamentary stages last month but was pulled by the government, who are now leaving it for the next prime minister to deal with.

Both Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have suggested they could re-examine the legislation. 

The Scottish Government told The Herald they were keen to work with ministers in London “to strengthen their Online Safety Bill to address harmful online content, such as the non-consensual sharing of intimate images.”

However, both the Scottish Conservative and Liberal Democrats said the SNP-Green administration could do more with the powers they already have. 

Tory shadow justice secretary Jamie Greene told 1919 that those convicted of threatening to or disclosing intimate images should be dealt with severely.

“Those who commit such appalling acts deserve serious punishment, and my thoughts are with all victims,” he said.

“This type of crime can be particularly traumatic for victims, as it often involves betrayal by someone they had trusted.

“So it’s imperative that they are thoroughly supported when they interact with our justice system.

“We should also focus on prevention as sex crimes are at an all-time high under this SNP government. Tackling this rise should be one of their top priorities, as well as supporting victims when they’re brave enough to report such crimes.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur said the justice system needed to better reflect the needs of victims.

He said: “With sex crimes at record levels, these latest figures further illustrate how far short the government is falling when it comes to rising to this challenge.

“Complainers already feel a sense of trauma and shame when reporting such crimes.

“That is why SNP Ministers must do more to strengthen safeguards and ensure the justice system better reflects the needs of victims.”

A Scottish Government said they had “created a specific offence to deal with this insidious behaviour in 2016.”

They added: “Previously, such behaviour had to be dealt with under more general laws.

“That offence criminalises both the sharing or threatening to share intimate images. 

“This was followed by a national awareness campaign to warn of the maximum sentence of up to five years, reflecting the serious nature of this crime. 

“The campaign was re-run in May 2020 following concerns about an increase in this type of offending during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Scottish Government recognises the powerful role online platforms play in our lives, and have offered to work with the UK Government to strengthen their Online Safety Bill to address harmful online content, such as the non-consensual sharing of intimate images.”