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Social issues

Revenge porn and beyond

The very real impact of image-based abuse.

BY Isobel Armstrong.

 

The first comprehensive research on “revenge porn” has revealed the mass scale of victimisation across Australia, with 1 in 5 people suffering image-based abuse.

A survey conducted by RMIT University and Monash University researchers has revealed women and men are equally likely to be victims- but marginalised groups are especially vulnerable. Image-based abuse affects 1 in 2 Indigenous Australians and 1 in 2 people with a disability. The risk of victimisation is also higher for young people and lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians.

Abuse commonly means as taking sexual or nude images without consent (20 per cent), distributing images without consent (11 per cent) and threatening to share images (9 per cent). Here are the stats:

Who are the victims

  • Women (22 per cent) and men (23 per cent) were equally likely to be victimised
  • 56 per cent of people with a disability and 50 per cent of Indigenous Australians had been victims of image-based abuse
  • People who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual were more likely to be victims (36 per cent) than heterosexual people (21 per cent)
  • 1 in 3 of people aged 16-19, and 1 in 4 aged 20-29, reported at least one form of image victimisation
  • People who had shared sexual selfies were significantly more likely to have been victimised (37 per cent) than those who had never sent a sexual image (10 per cent)

How are they being affected

  • 23 per cent had experienced at least one form of image-based abuse victimisation
  • 20 per cent had a sexual or nude image taken without their consent
  • 11 per cent had an image sent onto others or distributed without consent, with 40 per cent of those reporting the images were distributed across multiple devices and platforms (including SMS, Snapchat, Facebook and “revenge porn” sites)
  • 9 per cent had experienced “sextortion”, or threats that an image would be shared without their consent

What is the impact

  • 80 per cent of people who had experienced “sextortion” reported high levels of psychological distress, consistent with moderate to severe depression and/or anxiety disorder, with 46 per cent also feeling highly fearful for their safety
  • Moderate to severe depression and/or anxiety affected 75 per cent of victims whose images were distributed, and 67 per cent of those whose images were taken without consent
  • 39 per cent of people whose images were distributed, and 28 per cent of those whose images were taken without consent, felt highly fearful for their safety Who are the perpetrators
  • The majority (54 per cent) of victims reported the perpetrator was male, 33 per cent reported the perpetrator was female, 13 per cent were either unknown or a mixed group
  • Women (39 per cent) were more likely than men (30 per cent) to be victimised by an intimate partner or ex-partner
  • Women (12 per cent) were also more likely than men (5 per cent) to have had a stranger take a nude or sexual image of them without permission

Unsurprisingly, the survey revealed the “damaging psychological toll” on victims. Those threatened and experiencing “sextortion” and those whose images had been distributed were the most severely affected by depression and/or anxiety.

Chief investigator Dr Nicola Henry says the phenomenon goes above and beyond retribution. “This isn’t just about ‘revenge porn’ – images are being used to control, abuse and humiliate people in ways that go well beyond the ‘relationship gone sour’ scenario.”

Henry also noted that image-based abuse has emerged so rapidly as an issue that our laws and policies are struggling to catch up. As such, a lack of proper legal response has obstructed the course of justice.

RMIT’s Dr Anastasia Powell mirrored this sentiment. “We need to rethink our approach both from a legal perspective but also as a community, to change attitudes that often blame the victims and play down the very real harm caused by image-based abuse,” she said.

The research by Henry, Powell and Monash University’s Dr Asher Flynn recommends a range of reforms:

  • Improved support services for victims, such as a dedicated helpline similar to the “Revenge Porn Helpline” established in the United Kingdom in 2015 (although the UK hotline was rumoured to close in March 2017 due to lack of policy based commitment.
  • Making image-based abuse a crime under federal telecommunications law
  • Addressing the piecemeal legislative approach across the states (only Victoria and South Australia have specific laws that criminalise the distribution of intimate or invasive images without consent).

There is also a dire need for stronger action from social media and internet companies.

“Social media providers and internet companies need to introduce strong and proactive measures that take seriously the harms of image-based abuse, and seek to create safe online spaces for victims,” says Flynn.

While these findings are alarming, they may not even accurately represent the problem. Flynn said it was also likely the survey findings underestimated the extent of image-based abuse.

“Our survey only captured those victims who had become aware their images had been distributed, whereas some victims may never discover that their images have been taken and distributed, particularly if they are circulated on sites located on the dark web.”

 

If you or someone you know has been struggling mentally due to image-based abuse, we urge you to contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or on their web chat.

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