One In Five Australians Have Been Victims Of 'Revenge Porn'

Image: iStock

Researchers at RMIT and Monash University have just completed the first comprehensive study on "revenge porn" - and the results show one in five Australians have fallen victim to "image-based" abuse.

Women and men are equally likely to be victims, and marginalised groups are especially vulnerable. One in two Indigenous Australians and one in two people with a disability have been affected. The risk of victimisation is also higher for young people and lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians.

The most common types of abuse were taking sexual or nude images without consent (20 per cent), distributing images without consent (11 per cent) and threatening to share images (nine per cent).

The survey also for the first time revealed the damaging psychological toll on victims, with those threatened and experiencing "sextortion", and those whose images had been distributed, the most severely affected by depression and/or anxiety.

Image: RMIT University

Chief investigator, RMIT University's Dr Nicola Henry, said the research showed this type of abuse was far more common and affected a wider range of people than previously thought.

"Image-based abuse has emerged so rapidly as an issue that inevitably our laws and policies are struggling to catch up," Henry said. "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."

RMIT's Dr Anastasia Powell said a lack of proper legal and support responses made it incredibly difficult for victims to get justice.

"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, including improved support services for victims such as a dedicated helpline similar to the "Revenge Porn Helpline" established in the United Kingdom in 2015.

Legal reforms proposed include making image-based abuse a crime under federal telecommunications law, and 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).

Flynn said the prevalence and harms associated with image-based abuse warranted 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," she said.

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."

The study findings are from a national online survey of 4274 people aged 16 to 49.

It showed 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) and one in three of people aged 16-19, and one in four 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).

The survey also showed 23 per cent of respondents had experienced at least one form of image-based abuse victimisation, 20 per cent had a sexual or nude image taken without their consent and 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).

Nine per cent had experienced "sextortion", or threats that an image would be shared without their consent.

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.

And who is doing this?

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, and were also more likely than men (12 versus 5 per cent) to have had a stranger take a nude or sexual image of them without permission.

The report, Not Just 'Revenge Pornography': Australians' Experience of Image-Based Abuse, is the first stage of research funded by La Trobe University, the Australian Criminology Research Council and the Australian Research Council. The next stage will extend the research beyond Australia, incorporating New Zealand and the UK.


Comments

    Let me fix that title for you. 11% of people surveyed between the ages of 16-49 yrs old have had their sexy selfies forwarded to other people, for revenge or other purposes. 9% have been threatened with revenge porn.

    Not quite as succinct but more honest.

      Literally signed up to post this.

      The title (and infograph) is hella missleading. Unless you don't count kids or anyone over 50 as people the title makes no sense.....

        I was planning to reply along the same lines but you guys beat me to it.

        I hate articles like this with insufficient research and clickbait headlines. If we extrapolate that 1 in 5 number then nearly 5 million people should be suffering this. It's pretty obvious that's not the case or it'd be a massive topic of discussion *everywhere*.

        Not saying there isn't a problem but a little perspective would be nice. I also can't help but think the reason its a growing problem is twofold, the prevalence of decent quality still and video cameras (every damned phone) and the selfie/social media culture that seems to be driving kids. As a teenager I wouldn't have dreamed of taking a photo of my dick, much less sending it to someone or putting it on the net. And I can't remember any of the girls at school randomly showing their boobs to the world either.

    Disturbing figures no matter how you see it. However your title is incorrect. It's 11% that have had a sexualized image distributed without consent, not 20%.
    The group surveyed do have a significant demographic age restriction too, so that excludes the use of the term "Australians".

    This is important as people will parrot headings without reading the details, thinking they are facts when it's simply not true; it's a misrepresentation of the data.

      Well said. I'll go further and note that this sort of poor, even misleading statistical representation by researchers contributes to undermining the overall credibility of research and statistics.

      "Lay" person reads headline/infographic and takes it on face value, then later has it pointed out how the "fact" they just believed isn't supported by the research... next time they read about some finding or another they're more likely to just dismiss it rather than get "burnt" again.

      It's a sad reflection on the fact that researchers increasingly feel the need to present "dramatic" findings for anyone to notice ... "one in five Australians!". I see many factors underlying this, but not something I can gather the energy or motivation to go into right now...

        Yep, I don't trust any article these days that mentions stats. I find that what has happened here with misrepresenting them is all too common.
        Others that have been posted on Giz have quoted other articles as their source, those articles quoted others and so on, while next to none actually looked at the original stats, so kept parrotting the wrong claim.

        Rae had done an article where the source was completely untrustworthy too, with stats that I proved wrong. https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2017/01/the-cheapest-and-most-expensive-place-in-the-world-to-buy-an-iphone/

    easy fix. don't take naked selfies and send it.

      Except not all of these cases involved people taking selfies, a significant percentages were photos taken without any consent.

      I get what you're saying (and sort of agree - but I don't blame the victim because of somebody else's malicious actions), but this isn't the only issue the study looked at.

    Exactly - does anyone really buy a claim that half the aborigines in Australia and half the disabled people have suffered from "image abuse"?

      Don't forget that there's an age restriction in there.
      Also what percentage of the total people surveyed, were disabled and what percentage were aborigines?
      they surveyed 4274 people. Was there 10 disabled people?
      Also, what's the definition of "sexual image". Is that them in a low cut dress? A guy without a shirt on?
      So yeah, you're right, I don't but the stats either

    Section 474.17 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cwth) already makes "using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence" illegal.

    Call me crazy, but I think that covers distribution of explicit images of a person without consent. I'm prepared to bet there are also laws in place that cover taking images of a person without consent too. Instead of creating new laws, let's enforce the ones we already have, and provide our police agencies (state and federal) with the resources they need to investigate and prosecute these crimes.

    That said, I was in the room for the "Why we don't just log off: Online Harrassment" panel at PAXAus last year. In most cases, investigation and prosecution are hampered by Officers not understanding Twitter/FB/Twitch/etc as being things, then even if they do, the evidence is inaccessible because it's on OS servers owned by OS companies who may, or more likely, may not cooperate. Address the first with training and education. The second shouldn't need legislation, but if it does, stiff penalties for failing to cooperate, in the billions area of dollars, should do the trick. Sound high? What are FB/Google/Telstra/Optus profit each year?

    Edit: Spelling

    Last edited 08/05/17 7:05 pm

      What does Telstra or Optus have to do with it? They comply with police requests per the letter of the law.

      People want less intrusion into their online activities - we're already being watched more than ever before with metadata collection. This is an issue for Facebook/social media.

        I was covering all bases, images are shared via SMS as well as social media, and you are quite right, Australian Telcos do comply with requests from law enforcement, for now. That said, if legislation were brought in to compel entities in the manner I described, it would make sense to cover not only the hosts of the data, but the providers of the carriage service too. Presenting evidence that the image was not only put on the perpetrator's SM account, but was also done from their device, is more compelling than its presence on their accounts alone.

          I don't get what you want them to do. If it's via SMS or something they can verify when information was sent over their network, but it sounds like you want carriers to implement some sort of mass surveillance of content and what might be on a person's device. Nobody's going to support that.

            Not my intention at all. I merely hope to ensure their continued cooperation. Just because they assist presently doesnt mean they will continue to do so.

            While what you describe is theoretically possible, it's not practical. The number of false positives would so flood resources and render them useless.

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