“Encouraging serious self-harm” to become a criminal offence

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“Encouraging serious self-harm” to become a criminal offence

Ipsos polling shows that more than 2 in 3 (67 %) of UK adults are worried about seeing content promoting or advocating self-harm while online.

In 2021 the Law Commission recommended that individuals responsible for encouraging or assisting serious self-harm should be better held to account by criminal law.

It is argued that once the sharing of posts encouraging self-harm is criminalised, social media companies will have to remove and limit people’s exposure to material that deliberately encourages somebody to injure themselves. This includes posts, videos, images and other messages that encourage, for example, the self-infliction of significant wounds.

As a result of the Law Commission recommendation the government has announced new offences.

Additions to the Online Safety Bill will make it a crime to encourage someone to cause serious self-harm, regardless of whether or not victims go on to injure themselves and those convicted face up to 5 years in prison. The new offence will add to existing laws which make it illegal to encourage or assist someone to take their own life.

Police or prosecutors will only have to prove communication was intended to encourage or assist serious self-harm amounting to grievous bodily harm (GBH) – this could include serious injuries such as broken bones or permanent physical scarring.

The offence will apply even where the perpetrator does not know the person they are targeting - putting an end to abhorrent trolling that risks serious self-harm or life-changing injuries.

Encouraging someone to starve themselves or not take prescribed medication will also be covered.

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk KC, said:

'There is no place in our society for those who set out to deliberately encourage the serious self-harm of others. Our new law will send a clear message to these cowardly trolls that their behaviour is not acceptable.'

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