FROM THE TECH SAFETY TEAM
What is image-based abuse and what can you do about it?
The following information is directed towards people who are aged 18 and over. If you are experiencing image-based abuse and you are under 18 please access information about your options here.
In Australia, image-based abuse is defined as the sharing of (or threat to share) intimate images without the consent of the person in that image. The motivations for someone sharing or threatening to share an intimate image of someone else may vary depending on the context in which the image-based abuse takes place.
Someone who is perpetrating image-based abuse outside the context of domestic violence may be doing so for the following reasons:
- Social status building
- “Harmless fun”
- Sexual gratification
- Monetary gain
Within the context of domestic violence, abusers will often perpetrate image-based abuse as another tool to exert power and control over someone within a larger context of a pattern of abuse. Within this context, the motivation is often to manipulate, punish, or control the victim-survivor. To clarify, someone who is perpetrating image-based abuse within the context of domestic violence may be doing so for the following reasons:
- Exerting power and control
- Intentional harm
- Part of an existing pattern of power and control
- Used as another ‘tactic’ or ‘tool’ in conjunction with others they are already using
Abusers may also send or threaten to send images directly to friends, family and others in the community who know the victim by email or text message in addition to or instead of posting the images online.
Sexting or sharing nudes and intimate images is a very common activity between consenting adults. It is completely normal and common amongst all age groups and cohorts.
It is only harmful, humiliating and dangerous if victims are being blackmailed, threatened, or coerced into sending them or when the images are shared by the offender with the intent to embarrass, humiliate, or harass the victim. It is never the fault of the victim if an intimate image they send to someone is shared without their consent.
Victim-blaming attitudes are common amongst perpetrators but can also be common amongst frontline practitioners, police and courts. We often hear from people occupying these roles that the younger generation should just stop sending nudes and then image-based abuse would not be a problem. However this is blaming victims for the actions of abusers, it is also incorrect as research indicates that 1 in 10 young people who have never taken a nude selfie are also victims of non-consensual sharing of images (eSafety 2017).
A perpetrator can come into possession of intimate photos or videos in various ways, including:
- He originally took the photo or video.
- He was sent the photo or video by the person in the video.
- He stole the image (by accessing the survivor’s phone or computer).
- He photoshopped another image to look like the survivor.
A recent study found that nearly one in four Australians aged 16 to 49 have been a victim of image-based sexual abuse. People from the LGBTIQ community, younger people, people with a disability and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are especially vulnerable to this type of abuse.
Results from this study showed that image-based abuse was used by perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assault in stalking and sexual harassment, and also as threats and as part of bullying tactics by peers and other known people. The study showed the following:
- Young people were twice as likely as those aged over 40 to be victims of image-based sexual abuse, with those aged between 20 and 29 years the most likely group to be victims.
- Men were more likely than women to be perpetrators.
- The most common sites for distribution were social media, email and mobile messages.
Results from this study also showed that less than half of the respondents knew it was actually a crime to take, distribute or threaten to share intimate images of someone without consent. However, all states in Australia have legislation that makes the non-consensual sharing of an intimate image an offence. (You can read about the details of this specific crime in each State in our Legal Guides handouts on our Tech Safety website).
The impact of image-based abuse on survivors can be devastating, impacting every part of their life and future.
Victims can be re-victimised in their school, workplace, or community. It can have extreme impacts on their mental health, employment and social life. Unfortunately, a significant amount of victim blaming exists in some of these cases suggesting that victim-survivors should not have shared the images in the first place. Often those images are shared within the context of private, trusting relationships and even in cases where the images are obtained without consent or permission the victim-survivors actions are still questioned.
The focus of image-based abuse should never be on the actions of the victim but always on the distribution of the image without consent by another person. We can help shift community attitudes to change by placing the blame on the perpetrator of the image-based abuse rather than the victim-survivor.
What can you do about it?
1. Report to the Platform
Survivors may wish to document and report the image-based abuse to the website or platform it was posted on, to the e-safety commissioner or to the police. See our handout Documentation Tips for Survivors of Technology Abuse and Stalking for information on how to document and capture evidence of the abuse. Many social media websites have a process to remove non-consensual intimate images, see eSafety’s list of platforms that have formal removal processes.
2. Report to the E-Safety Commissioner
You can also visit the Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s Image-Based Abuse Online Portal. This online portal includes information on who to contact to request that your intimate image is removed. You also have the option of reporting to the eSafety Commissioner’s office, and they will report the image or video on your behalf. This portal also has a range of information regarding legal and support options. The eSafety Commissioner’s office may even be able to investigate the image-based abuse and proceed with civil measures to hold accountable the person who posted your image.
3. Report to the police
One option is to report to the police. It is a Commonwealth offence to use a carriage service to harass, menace or offend; and depending on what state you live in, there may also be specific image-based abuse offences. You can read about the details of this specific crime in each State in our Legal Guides handouts on our Tech Safety website. You should also be aware that if the image-based abuse is part of a larger pattern of abuse, there may be other crimes that have occurred as well. Speak to the police about your case and ask what they can do.
Get legal advice.
In some cases, you may want to review your civil options. This may include seeking a protection order or other civil recourse. Contact your local Community Legal Centre, Women’s Legal Centre or Legal Aid Commission for advice or referral to someone who can help.
Tech Safety Tips.
Here are some tips that may be helpful for you:
- If your photos and videos are automatically uploaded to an online cloud service, check to make sure that those accounts are secure and that someone else doesn’t know the password. In fact, it is always a good idea to make sure that all your online accounts are secure and that no one else by you knows the passwords.
- Review the privacy settings of your social media accounts, so you know who sees what you share. You may want to review your friends and followers, and if there is anyone you don’t want to see your information, you may unfriend them or remove them as a follower of your account.
- Put passcodes on your devices, particularly devices that have photos and videos of you.
- If you feel comfortable, consider creating a Google Alert for your name so that if anything is posted online with your name, you will get an alert. This will be best for someone with a name that isn’t very common. Also make sure you’ll be okay getting an alert, even if that means you’ll know each time your intimate image has been re-posted. Some survivors find this helpful to do, while some survivors feel that this can be difficult.
More Resources on IBA:
- WESNET – Image-Based Abuse Handout
- WESNET – Documentation Tips for Survivors of Technology Abuse and Stalking Handout
- WESNET and Women’s Legal Services NSW – Legal Guides
- eSafety – Social Media Platforms Removal Process
- eSafety – Image-Based Abuse Portal
- Office of eSafety Commission. (2017). Image-based Abuse: National Survey: Summary Report (pp. 1–14). Retrieved from https://www.esafety.gov.au/sites/default/files/2019-07/Image-based-abuse-national-survey-summary-report-2017.pdf
- Henry, N., Flynn, A., & Powell, A. (2019). Responding to ‘revenge pornography’: Prevalence, nature and impacts. Report to the Criminology Research Advisory Council (p. 126). Canberra, ACT: Australian Research Council. Retrieved from https://researchmgt.monash.edu/ws/portalfiles/portal/264678641/08_1516_FinalReport.pdf