Understanding Your Power – Image Based Sexual Abuse

Words by Jasmine Vermeer
Film by Kate Bowman

“Send nudes”… the 21st century expression of romance.

The practice of ‘sexting’ and nude photographs has become more and more of a common practice in the past 10 to 15 years, and is generally thought of as a fun and harmless form of flirtation and courtship. In a survey of over 70 Monash students, almost 70% said they had sent nude or semi-nude photographs at some point in their lives. Moreover, most considered it to be both safe and enjoyable.

However, this practice has also opened the gates to new forms of sexual and domestic abuse and misconduct.

Image-based sexual abuse (IBSA), or ‘revenge porn’ as it has been colloquially titled, is when such nude images are distributed without the consent of the person in the images.

Revenge porn has become a widely talked about subject, with high profile cases such as the iCloud hack in 2014, which resulted in the leakage of more than 500 personal photos from well-known celebrities, including that of Jennifer Lawrence and Kirsten Dunst.

But it’s not just celebrities that are targets. In reality,
1 in 10 Australian adults are victims of IBSA, and the breadth of offences spans much further than what is generally understood.

Image based sexual abuse includes the distribution of any images deemed “intimate,” which includes:

  • a person’s genital area or anal area (whether bare or covered by underwear)
  • a person’s breasts (if the person identifies as female, transgender or intersex)
  • private activity (for example a person undressing, using the bathroom, showering, bathing or engaged in sexual activity)
  • photoshopped images of a person’s face onto an explicit image
  • a person without attire of religious or cultural significance if they would normally wear such attire in public (eSafety.gov.au)

Whenever there is such a case of IBSA that becomes public, the question arises about where to lay the blame. The result? An unsurprising yet disappointing amount of slut-shaming directed to those taking the photos, meant for private use. It is important to reiterate that the victim is not to blame, and the person sharing the images is committing an offence. It is not a controversy that is going to be solved soon, but in the meantime, there needs to be more education and intervention done to prevent and deter this behaviour.

Yet it’s no shock that our somewhat stale government has been more than lax in keeping up to date with technological advancements, and educating on issues of abuse, particularly of a sexual nature. In a survey of Monash students, 72% of participants said they did not know, or were unsure of what avenues they could take if they were victims of IBSA, and 20% were unaware that it was even a criminal offence.

These gaps in legislation and education result in little to no reporting, resulting in criminals being let off scot-free and a lack of support for victims. However, in Victoria, there are some legal avenues that can be taken.

Understand your rights and avenues

Legislation was introduced into Victoria in 2014, prohibiting the “distribution of an intimate image” and the “threat to distribute an intimate image,” with both carrying a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.

You can apply for a protection order against someone, whereby any breaches of the order are criminal offences.

There are also options for civil penalties that help in the removal of images/videos and initiation of action against an offender.

Know you can also immediately report to the site to have the images removed, but ensure you keep some evidence if you want to pursue legal action.

eSafety: https://www.esafety.gov.au/key-issues/image-based-abuse

Getting Help

Victims of IBSA are most often women, Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders and members of the LGBTI+ community. These acts of abuse are most commonly perpetrated by people known to the victims, such as partners or ex-partners.

There are numerous services available to you for help if you or anyone you know is a victim of IBSA or any other forms of assault. As hard as it can be, talking to someone and getting help is extremely important.

Monash Counselling — A free service for all students: +61 3 9905 3020

Centre Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence (CASA) Crisis Hotline 1800 806 292

The National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service

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