Australian Study Finds High Rates of Non-Consensual Photo Sharing

A recent study on ‘image based abuse’ in Australia shows just how big a problem this has become. RMIT and Monash University surveyed almost 4,300 people and found that one in five (20 percent) said they’d had sexual images or video taken without their consent. Of these, 11 percent reported the material had been shared, while 9 percent had experienced threats that it would be.

The findings were higher than any of the researchers had anticipated, yet Dr Anastasia Powell of RMIT believes the true ‘rate of victimisation’ is probably even higher. Many of the respondents who said non-consensual images had been taken may be unaware that these pictures have been shared if they are posted on a site dedicated specifically to sharing pornography. According to Powell, “there’s a hidden dimension that you just can’t capture with a survey.”

The popular term used to describe the non-consensual sharing of explicit images is revenge porn. However, this refers more specifically to material posted after a couple splits up. In some cases, these pictures may have originally been taken consensually, but they are later published with the intent to humiliate the ex-lover. Powell and other researchers opted for the term ‘image-based abuse’ as a more accurate way to describe the broad scope of the problem. Some perpetrators are motivated by revenge, while others have complex reasons for wanting to control or intimidate the victim. Sexual gratification, social status and monetary considerations can all play a role. At Reputation Defender, we assist with the removal of compromising images and video and help victims create better content, but it can be very hard to rebuild a reputation after this type of abuse.

Victims Face Many Challenges

The study found that the majority of perpetrators were male (fifty-four percent), while victims were equally likely to be female or male. The rates were highest for teenagers aged 16-19 and slightly elevated for people in their twenties. The LGBTQ community was more likely to be victimised, as well as other marginalised groups including Indigenous people and anyone with a disability. Women were more likely to be threatened by someone they knew personally (such as an ex-partner) than men.

Researchers found victims were about twice as likely to report experiencing high levels of psychological stress compared to people who had never experienced this type of abuse. For many victims, it was a form of sexual violation that threatened their autonomy and dignity.

The findings correspond with instances of image based abuse around the world. Victims face severe reputation damage which can have long-term repercussions on almost every aspect of their lives. The public images can make it difficult to hold a job, build a career, or form long term relationships. They leave individuals struggling with self-esteem and wondering how far the perpetrator will go. In a recent case of revenge porn involving a US marine, the victim said she wanted to “stop living in fear.” Over time the stress can have extremely negative consequences. An Italian girl committed suicide in September 2016 after a long battle to remove a non-consensual sex tape.

Victims’ difficulties are compounded by the fact that many people fail to take images-based abuse seriously and some even blame the victim. Historically, police have been slow to prosecute perpetrators, even when significant evidence exists, but this is beginning to change as many countries adopt laws geared specifically toward internet crime. In 2015, revenge porn became a criminal offense in the UK; Powell and the other researchers recommend that Australia adopt a similar federal policy rather than the current system where standards vary from state to state.

In the meantime, victims need all the help they can get. Don’t hesitate to contact our experts at Reputation Defender if you are struggling with this type of abuse.