With smartphones never far out of reach and the ease of photo sharing on social media, problems with the malicious use of intimate images are on the increase.

Most people now own smartphones and are able to take high quality photographs and videos and share them with an intimate partner or upload them to apps such as Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat.

This has created a new dynamic as to how friendships and relationships are conducted, and increased abusive or vengeful behaviour.

The scope for abuse is limitless. It affects both men and women and people of all ages – the youngest reported victim in the UK being 11 – and it crosses all classes and backgrounds, being just as prevalent among professionals as low-skilled workers and students.

Among teenagers images are frequently shared with their peers using apps like Snapchat, often in the mistaken belief that it is safe because images automatically delete.

What they may not realise, is that it is possible for the recipient to take a screenshot of the photo and share it. Others may be sexting on Tinder and then find private images have been posted online.

Due to the ease with which information is shared, many young people do not realise the consequences of sharing images without consent. It can put them at risk of a criminal conviction and cause huge distress.

In a criminal case this year an 18-year-old woman was found guilty of posting footage on Facebook of her best friend having intercourse.

The footage was taken without consent and after they fell out the friend published it. The perpetrator was fined, given a 12-month community order and ordered to wear an electronic tag for 12 months.

The possibilities for broken trust and embarrassment are easy to see but also for more sinister ends where the perpetrator can manipulate, coerce and shame. Even celebrities are not immune from its effects. Kim Kardashian endured the humiliation of an intimate image of a sexual act with an ex-partner being waved on a flag during her husband’s performance at the Glastonbury Festival this year.

Recent internet campaigns and a government crackdown have resulted in the introduction of an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill. It is now ‘an offence for a person to publish a private sexual image of another identifiable person without their consent where this disclosure causes distress to the person who is subject of the image.’ Reputable website operators should take this message seriously.

If you find yourself a victim your first priority is likely to be the removal of the images from public platforms. A good starting point is The National Revenge Porn Helpline which has links with online platforms and provides help with getting images removed.

Most social networks do not allow nudity on their sites and you may be able to ask a search engine to remove the images.