Revenge porn on mass scale in Australia: National study

Researchers said that laws were "struggling to catch up" with the rapid spread of "revenge porn".
Researchers said that laws were "struggling to catch up" with the rapid spread of "revenge porn". PHOTO: ST FILE

SYDNEY (AFP) - Researchers on Monday (May 8) urged tougher laws to protect victims of "revenge porn" in Australia, after a survey revealed abuses, including taking and sharing intimate images without permission, on a "mass scale".

One in five Australians have fallen prey to abusive behaviour, including having intimate photographs taken without consent and then confronting threats to share them on social networks, a government-funded national study of more than 4,200 people revealed.

Academics at Monash University and RMIT University found that men and women were equally likely to be targeted, while 50 per cent of those from minority groups, like Aboriginal Australians and those with disabilities, reported some form of abuse.

About a third of those who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual had fallen victim.

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Researchers behind the survey - the most comprehensive on the subject ever in Australia - said legislation needed to be strengthened, adding that "revenge porn" had emerged at such a rapid pace that laws were "struggling to catch up".

"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," Monash senior criminology lecturer Asher Flynn said.

The most common type of abuse was taking intimate images without consent. Some 11 per cent of victims saw their images distributed without their consent, with some 40 per cent of those being shared across social media platforms like Snapchat and Facebook.

A vast majority of those who experienced "sextortion", or threats to share their images, said they suffered from anxiety as a result, with many fearing for their safety.

About half of the victims said their perpetrators were male, about a third that the violator was female while 13 per cent said the offender was unknown.

"We need to rethink our approach both from a legal perspective and also as a community, to change attitudes that often blame the victims and play down the very real harm caused by image-based abuse," said RMIT legal studies lecturer Anastasia Powell.

The study recommended a range of reforms, including improved support services for victims like a dedicated helpline similar to one established in Britain in 2015.

It has also proposed making image-based abuse a crime under federal telecommunications law, instead of the current piecemeal legislative approach across Australia's states.

At present, only Victoria and South Australia have specific laws that criminalise the distribution of intimate or invasive images without consent.

Facebook this month announced plans to curb the spread of intimate images with the use of photo-matching technology to prevent copies being shared once the issue is reported and confirmed and the pictures removed.