Skip to main content

As the use of deepfake technology has rapidly advanced, federal legislation has lagged. Since the first deepfake in 2017, technology is a rapidly developing, sophisticated form of artificial intelligence in which a person’s face can be digitally superimposed onto the body of another person. This has been used to produce realistic pornographic media out of an individual’s still photograph. In a 2019 study by Deeptrace Labs, researchers found that 96% of deepfake videos are sexually explicit in nature, and 99% of the subjects portrayed in deepfake pornography are women. One of the most popular deepfake pornography website receives a traffic of seventeen million visitors a month. The prevalence of deepfake pornography has grown exponentially with it nearly doubling every year since 2018

In the 2022 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization Act, provisions were added to create civil remedies for individuals victimized by revenge pornography, a non-consensual distribution of intimate personal images. While these provisions are a monumental step in the right direction, they fail to provide individuals victimized by deepfake pornography with the same protections. 

To address this, Congressman Joe Morelle authored and introduced legislation, the Preventing Deepfakes of Intimate Images Act, on May 5, 2023. If enacted, this bill would amend the 2022 reauthorization of the VAWA, by including and criminalizing the distribution of deepfake pornography without the explicit consent from the person depicted in the material. Congressman Morelle said the Prevention Deepfakes of Intimate Images Act will signify to the people posting deepfake pornographic materials that “it’s not going to be a free ride anymore, they’re not going to be able to be shielded from prosecution potentially. And they’re not going to be shielded from facing lawsuits.”

While public figures are the most common individuals portrayed and victimized in deepfake pornography, the growing availability and accessibility of such technology has allowed individuals to create deepfake pornography of people they know in real life.  These are commonly generated by sourcing images and videos posted on an individual’s social media account. 

In a 2019 Huffington Post article, the author interviewed multiple women, who exist outside of the spotlight, live ordinary lives, and have all fallen victim to deepfake technology. One of the women said “When it’s Photoshop, it’s a static picture and can be very obvious that it’s not real. But when it’s your own face reacting and moving, there’s this panic that you have no control over how people use your image.” In addition to the financial, emotional, and reputational harm inflicted, digitally manipulated intimate images are a violation of the victim’s consent, autonomy, dignity, safety, and privacy. 

As of April 2023, the FBI has observed an increase of deepfake-related sextortion cases with malicious actors frequently threatening to share the digitally manipulated sexual material with the victim’s friends, family, or social media circle if the victim does not produce the funds set forth in the ransom demand or send nude photos and videos. This technology “presents new opportunities for malicious actors to find and target victims” leaving them “vulnerable to embarrassment, harassment, extortion, financial loss, or continued long-term re-victimization.

As of June 2023, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a warning to the public about malicious actors using deepfake technology to create explicit digitally manipulated content for the purposes of harassing victims or sextortion schemes. Generally, many victims are wholly unaware of the existence of the digitally manipulated pornography featuring the victim until someone else brings it to their attention. Additionally, the reports received by the FBI show that adults and minors are victims of these attacks. 

If you have been the victim of non-consensual pornography, contact our team of licensed, caring professionals today to learn about your legal rights. Call today for a free, confidential consultation at: 1-888-407-0224 or use our confidential submission form. We will treat you with dignity and respect. 

You are not alone. We are here to help.

Valerie Juntunen

Valerie attended the University of California Los Angeles, where she received her B.A. in Psychology. During her undergraduate years, Valerie served as co-director of Bruin Consent Coalition, an organization dedicated to supporting survivors of sexual violence, educating her fellow students on the necessity of consent, and improving university resources. Valerie decided to further pursue her interest in advocacy work by attending law school and is currently a rising third-year at the University of Oregon School of Law. Before joining Crew Janci as a summer law clerk, Valerie worked for the Los Angeles County Bar Association's Domestic Violence Legal Services Project. Valerie is grateful for the opportunity to assist Crew Janci's courageous clients in their pursuit of justice and healing. In her free time, Valerie enjoys baking chocolate chip cookies, playing Wordle, and listening to The Happiness Lab podcast.