WINNIPEG - Manitoba has introduced a law that would allow victims who had intimate images distributed without their consent to claim damages and recoup any profits from the crime.
Attorney General Gord Mackintosh said the law would be the first in Canada to make it easy for victims to sue for everything from an injunction to punitive damages.
The province would also partner with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to boost funding for its tipline, which helps remove intimate images from the Internet and links victims with support.
Social media has made it easier to harass and shame a person with an intimate image, Mackintosh said Tuesday.
"Cyberbullying, based on these intimate images, is even worse than traditional notions of bullying. The impact is instant," he said. "It's more devastating psychologically than physical bullying."
Experts have said they are seeing an alarming increase in the number of teens who share sexual images of themselves through live web chats and are then extorted for money. The proposed law would apply to "revenge porn" and "sexting coercion," Mackintosh said.
It would apply when a person was "identifiable and nude or engaged in sexual activity" and did not consent to the image being shared, he said. It would also apply if someone acquired an intimate image and shared it without consent, Mackintosh added.
"You won't have to show that you've actually been bullied by the distribution of the image without consent."
The issue of "sextortion" has been blamed for driving some tormented teens to commit suicide.
Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old in British Columbia, killed herself in 2012 after being sexually exploited and harassed online. She eventually posted a heartbreaking, nine-minute video online detailing her torment before her death.
The suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons, another sexually exploited teenager in Nova Scotia in 2013, turned a spotlight on cyberbullying and prompted the federal government to change the Criminal Code to make it illegal to distribute intimate images without consent.
Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said the proposed legislation would help the tipline support victims who didn't want to go to police to regain control of their image.
It would also empower those who wanted to pursue the matter through a lawsuit while sending an important message to others, she suggested.
"It sends a message to people that this isn't a lawless land anymore where you can do what you want to people."