New Penalties Signal Long-Awaited Crackdown On 'Revenge Porn'

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People who share or post sexually explicit images of others without their consent will face tough new penalties if a national proposal to combat revenge porn is passed into law.

Image-based abuse, more widely known as 'revenge porn', reportedly affects one in 10 Australians.

It often involves the distribution of nude or sexually explicit images, without the depicted person's permission, via social media or messaging apps.

On Saturday, the federal government called for public submissions on developing civil penalties, such as fines and injunctions, to better target the perpetrators of image-based abuse.

The proposed changes will also give the eSafety Commissioner extra powers to investigate complaints and impose civil penalties, such as injunctions, infringement notices, formal warnings and take-down notices.

In a discussion paper released today, the government cited alarming research from RMIT and La Trobe University which found that of 3000 people surveyed between the ages of 18 and 54, one in 10 had reported a nude or semi-nude photo of themselves had been shared without their consent.

The research highlighted the damaging psychological toll that revenge porn has on its victims, pointing to high levels of depression and/or anxiety among those affected.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said the prevalence of image-based abuse required a "consistent" national response that would ensure perpetrators were held to account.

"By also penalising perpetrators and the sites which host this content, we are sending a strong message that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated," he said in a joint statement with Minister for Women Michaelia Cash.

"We have listened to victims and law enforcement agencies, and it is clear that in the first instance what victims want is for these images to be taken down as quickly as possible."

State and territory attorneys-general also agreed to a national framework for working on new criminal penalties for the sharing of revenge porn in a bid to plug existing gaps and inconsistencies in state-based laws.

While Victoria and South Australia have had laws in place that criminalises the distribution of an intimate or "invasive" image without consent for some time, there are no specific federal laws designed to police image-based abuse and punish perpetrators.

However, deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek slammed the Turnbull government over its proposed changes, arguing that her party's MPs had been trying to put forward legislation to deal with the issue for years.

"We've seen parliamentary inquiries come and go and now the only action we have from the government is the announcement of another inquiry," she told media in Sydney.

"It is very possible to take legislative action now if the government wished to do so. There's really no excuse for another delay."

Labor has been demanding action on revenge porn since 2015, when Labor MPs Terri Butler and Tim Watts introduced legislation that would have created new revenge porn offences.

In an effort to increase the reporting of image-based abuse, a new online portal will also be created to process and investigate complaints. The government is planning to roll out the portal in the second half of the year.

The government will be accepting submissions until June 30, with any legislation to be introduced by the end of the year.

This article originally appeared on SMH.

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