Not just ‘revenge porn’ – image-based abuse hits 1 in 5 Australians

Revenge porn

The first comprehensive research on “revenge porn” has revealed the mass scale of victimisation across Australia, with one in five people suffering image-based abuse, according to a study by Monash University and RMIT University.

The survey of more than 4200 people by Monash and RMIT researchers has shown women and men are equally likely to be victims.

But the research also showed marginalised groups are especially vulnerable, with image-based abuse affecting one in two Indigenous Australians and one in two people with a disability. 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 (9 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.

Monash University’s Dr Asher Flynn said the prevalence and harms associated with image-based abuse warranted stronger action from online providers.

“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. 

Dr Flynn said it was also likely the survey 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.” 

Chief investigator, RMIT University’s Dr Nicola Henry, said the research showed this type of abuse 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,” Dr 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,”