Avenging Revenge Porn

The reality of having your nudes shared online is one that too many people face. When sexting the thought that a trusted partner or friend would use these photos against you is not one that crosses many people’s mind. However, revenge porn has become an all too popular practice, with thousands of individuals – of all ages – falling victim to this in Australia every year.

Adobe Stock (Standard License) by kebox

In 2017 an important piece of legislation was introduced that largely went unnoticed by many. The Crimes Amendment (Intimate Images) Bill 2017 (NSW) 2017 made it an offence to intentionally distribute an intimate image of another person without their consent (s91Q). It imposed harsh punishments, with a maximum sentence of three years imprisonment and an $16,000 fine, and forged a way forward in the realm of policy and regulation that recognises the rights and freedoms of victims of revenge porn or as it is now referred to ‘Image Based Abuse’.

This has been largely celebrated as a step in the right direction. Prior to this amendment there was little recourse available to those that suffered extreme emotional distress and personal cost after falling victim to revenge porn. It has helped sever the link between sexting and sexual deviance, and gives individuals the opportunity to act freely on their own conception of what their bodies and sexual capacities are for.

Most importantly it has helped change the conversation.

How Things Have Changed

This sweeping recognition of sexual autonomy as an important individual right, operated to prioritise the consent and privacy expectations of victims of revenge porn. It did not minimise the harm these victims suffer and it has led to a number of important changes.

According to a survey of 4,122 Australians, conducted by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner in 2017, 11% of Australian respondents have experienced a nude or sexual image of themselves being distributed or circulated online without their consent. Those the most commonly victimised, young women aged 18 to 24.

Following this amendment, the eSaefty Commission revealed in July of 2019 that 1,400 cases of image-based abuse have been reported. In some cases victims have sought remedies through the legal system, with offenders such as Corey Fleton, 32, receiving 32 hours of community service for texting pictures of himself having sex with his ex-girlfriend to her former partner.

Where remedies are not pursued through the criminal system, individuals are able to get their images removed or destroyed by the eSafety Commission. This has been widely effective, with 90% of images reported being removed, often through the issue of formal removal notices to social media companies.

Adobe Stock (Standard License) by draftmm

Following this landmark amendment in NSW, most states and territories have also followed suit, enacting legislation with harsh penalties to address revenge porn. Tasmania remains the only state or territory in Australia not to have made it a specific criminal offence.

Revenge porn has also been recently criminalised at a federal level with the Enhancing Online Safety (Non-consensual Sharing of Intimate Images) Act 2018 passed last year.

Some Issues

While the introduction of specific laws to address the sharing of intimate images online has been important, not only to recognise the autonomy of those who have fallen victim to these practices, but also to condemn the actions of perpetrators. There is still a long way to go.

The sharing of intimate images carries with it a sense of shame and embarrassment for victims. It follows that more often than not these behaviours are not reported, with victims reluctant to go to the police for the fear of victim blaming.

For these laws to be effective new reporting strategies are required, that reduce stigmatisation and make victims comfortable coming forward. A specialisation in policing response and court proceedings has been identified in various government inquiries as an important development. This includes closed court proceedings and abolishing cross examination by perpetrators.

It is not simply a change in laws that will solve this problem, it also requires a change in attitude. A change in opinion. Laws can only do so much.

Comment below to get involved in the conversation, we’d love to hear from you. Click here for our cheat sheet on how to navigate these laws and regulations when sexting. Be safe x

Author: Madison C

A self-proclaimed nerd. Reads about Big Data more than is acceptable. Drinks approx. 4 flat whites a day (probably more).

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