Bystanders

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Quick Guide

It’s not easy to work out what to do if you have received an intimate, nude or sexual image from someone else, and you are unsure if the person has consented to their image being shared. This ‘quick guide’ shows you how you can help to stop image-based abuse and provide support to victims.

1. What is image-based abuse?

Image-based abuse (IBA) occurs when intimate, nude or sexual images are distributed without the consent of those pictured. This includes real, altered (i.e. Photoshopped) and drawn pictures and videos.

While most image-based abuse is about the sharing of images without consent, it can also include the threat of an image being shared.

Image-based abuse is also commonly referred to as ‘revenge porn’, ‘non-consensual sharing of intimate images’, or ‘intimate image abuse’. ‘Revenge porn’ is the term most commonly used in the media, but in many cases IBA is not about ‘revenge’, nor is it restricted to ‘porn’. IBA can occur for a range of motives and can include many kinds of images and video.

Examples of image-based abuse you may have witnessed include:

Quick guide for bystanders of image-based abuse
  • Someone’s current or ex-partner sharing an intimate image of them on social media without their consent.
  • A work colleague Photoshopping an image of another colleague with an explicit image and sharing it broadly via email.
  • A stranger taking an intimate image without consent, also known as ‘up-skirting’ or ‘down-blousing’ or ‘creepshots’, and sharing it on a website or porn site.

Around 20% of Australians have experienced IBA.^ Although women aged 18-24 are more likely to be targets, IBA impacts people regardless of their age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, education or bank balance.

Bystanders have a very important role to play in helping victims of image-based abuse. Research shows that 19% of Australians have received a nude or sexual photo or video that is likely to be a form of image-based abuse. How you respond when you receive an image like this could help to affect real change.

2. What are the impacts of image-based abuse?

For every person who has been a target of image-based abuse, the experience will be different. Depending on your precise situation, you might be feeling annoyed, angry, humiliated, embarrassed, overwhelmed, depressed or downright devastated. It can be terrifying to discover that an image of you has been shared without your consent. Even more distressing can be the knowledge that the distribution of this image may now be out of your control, that it might be viewed by friends or family or that it could form part of your lasting digital footprint.

The impacts of IBA can be far reaching. People who have been targets of IBA report that it has affected their self-esteem, mental health and physical wellbeing, and that it can impact on relationships with friends, family and intimate partners. Victims of IBA also describe negative effects on their school work, study and performance at work.

If someone you know has been affected by image-based abuse and would like emotional support, please encourage them to contact one of the counselling and support services listed later in this guide.

3. Victims of image-based abuse are not to blame

Everybody has the right to live without online abuse or the threat of abuse.

As we increasingly live our lives online, the threat of image-based abuse has increased. Some people hold out-dated attitudes that blame victims of IBA, when the blame should fall squarely upon the perpetrators. These views are unhelpful and can add stress to an already difficult situation. While a victim of IBA may have consented to share an image with one person, or to have one taken, this does not mean they consented to share it with anyone else. They can also withdraw their consent at any time. Every instance of IBA is different, but what unites people who have experienced IBA is that images or videos of them have been shared without their consent.

4. How can you help to stop image-based abuse?

  • Don’t pass on nude, sexual or intimate images to anyone, even if you think the person in the image might be okay with sharing.
  • Delete any images you receive immediately as in some jurisdictions you could be liable for possession of child exploitation material if the person in the image is under 18.
  • Ask a trusted person for advice on whether to inform the victim that images of them are being shared. If appropriate, tell the victim and remind them that they might want to gather evidence—for example, they might want to take screenshots before images are taken down.
  • If you feel strong enough, tell the sender of the image that you don’t want to see that image, or any other images like it.
  • If you can, ask the sender to delete the image. Having the offender delete the photo before it has a chance to be re-shared can stop the abuse.
  • Don’t view websites that share nonconsensual images.
  • Call out bad behaviour. When others talk about websites that share non-consensual nude or sexual images, let them know that this is disrespectful and that you aren’t interested. When others show you nude or sexual images, let them know that this is unacceptable.
  • Understand that sharing any intimate image without consent is a breach of trust. There are no excuses. It doesn’t matter if the person feels hurt after a relationship break-up, or if they thought it would be funny — it is never okay to share intimate images without the consent of the person depicted.
  • Stand up for the person in the image by not shaming or blaming them. The blame is with the person who shared the image without consent, not the person in the image.
  • Support the person in the image. Reassure them that they have done nothing wrong and direct them to the image-based abuse portal for support.

5. What to do if an image of someone you know has been shared without their consent

Do I tell someone their photo or video is being shared or posted online if they don’t know?

This really depends on the person, and what will be best for them at this point in time.

We usually want people to know if their image is being shared around or posted online, so they can report it, get support and take action. But, if the person has a mental illness that may be made worse when they hear about this abuse, it might be best to let their counsellor, main caregiver or partner know so they can decide how to support them and inform them, unless of course, it looks like the partner or caregiver is the perpetrator.

We know from research that many people who experience image-based abuse feel distressed. It is important to put their welfare first.

If you do tell them, make sure you check in with them, or, if it isn’t someone you’re close to, follow-up with someone that is close and can support them. We have support contacts below and on our image-based abuse portal.

Sextortion

If image-based abuse is being used to threaten, blackmail or control someone you know, contact police. Encourage them to seek support from the services listed on the next page before attempting to have the image removed. This is known as sextortion and may have legal consequences.

Support and counselling

There are a number of support and counselling services to help deal with the emotional effects of image-based abuse. Some are available free of charge. These include:

1800RESPECT   1800 737 732

All ages. Counselling for anyone affected by sexual assault or domestic and family violence (including family members). Open 24 hours daily.

Lifeline   13 11 14

All ages. All issues. All day, every day.

beyondblue   1300 224 636

All ages. All issues. All day, every day.

Kids Helpline   1800 55 1800

5-25 year olds. All issues. All day, every day.

Headspace and eHeadspace   1800 650 890

12-25 year olds. All issues. Open 9am-1am AEST daily

ReachOut

16-25 year olds. All issues. Online resources only (no telephone/online chat support).

MensLine   1300 78 99 78

All ages. All issues. All day, every day.

Q-Life   1800 184 527

All ages. Counselling and referral for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and/or intersex. Open 3pm-12am in your state, every day.

Remember, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner is here to help. You can find more information on available support services here.

Preserve evidence

Victims of image-based abuse often want to have the intimate images and videos taken down, or removed, immediately. This is a perfectly natural response. You will find more information on how to remove images below. But it is important to preserve evidence first.

The victim of the image-based abuse may be able to take legal action. To do so, it is helpful to collect evidence before the content is taken down. Evidence can help you show police and the courts exactly what happened.

Evidence can also be useful if you plan to report the abuse or threatening behaviour to the site or social media service it was posted on. Showing evidence of the image-based abuse can help to have the person who shared the image or video blocked from that service. It may also help to prevent the image from being shared again in the future.

For more information on how to collect and preserve evidence of image-based abuse, please see this simple guide.

Is the person under 18? Take extra care

The guidance on this page is for collecting evidence of image-based abuse concerning adults. Possessing, creating, or showing sexualised images of people under 18 may be a crime. For more information about relevant laws in Australia, visit Lawstuff .

6. How can I help to get an intimate image or video of someone I know taken down?

There are some key steps that can be taken to try to have intimate images or video removed. You can pass these on to anyone who has had an image of them shared without their consent. These include reporting the material to a social media service or website to have it taken down, making a report to the Office and contacting the person who posted the image.

1. Report an image to the website or social media service it is posted on

Most major websites and social media services have policies that prohibit the posting or sharing of intimate images without consent. They also provide specific pathways for reporting and take down.

The image-based abuse portal has a list of popular sites that have reporting mechanisms for image-based abuse. The portal also provides advice about what courses of action can be taken if the image is posted on an unlisted website or service, including websites that promote abuse (also known as ‘revenge porn’ sites). There are also links that show how to block images from search results in Google and Microsoft Bing.

For more information see this guide on useful links for removing images

2. Report an image to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner

The person whose image has been shared can make a report to the Office if they are a resident of Australia and:

  • They are worried about contacting a website or social media service
  • They need help to contact a social media service or website
  • They have tried, but the image is still online

For more information on reporting an image to the Office see Report to us

3. Contact the person with your image

Another option open to victims of IBA is to ask the person who shared the image to remove or delete it. You, or the person in the image, can let them know they do not have consent to share or post the image.

An example of the kind of message that could be sent to the perpetrator is provided here.

However, if you fear for your friend or acquaintance’s safety, or they are experiencing image-based abuse as part of an abusive relationship, it is best to try other options.

7. What are the legal options for victims of image-based abuse?

If someone has shared nude, sexual or intimate images of someone you know, or is threatening to do so, there may be laws to protect them.

The Federal Government is looking at ways to strengthen laws to better protect Australians against image-based abuse.

At present, laws vary state by state and can be complex, even for legal experts. The following laws may assist in instances of image-based abuse:

  • Grooming
  • Indecent images
  • Classification
  • Child sexual exploitation
  • Stalking
  • Threats of violence
  • The use of a carriage service provider to harass, menace or cause offence

The Office’s image-based abuse portal provides an Australia-wide overview of relevant legislation as a guide, but it is important to note that law is constantly evolving and changing in this area. You can find more information on engaging help from police and legal assistance.

8. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner has been given the primary role by the Federal Government in helping to support victims of image-based abuse. The Office’s image-based abuse portal encourages victims to access a range of resources and assistance and to help take steps to stand up to abuse and take control.

The office provides:

  • Information and advice, including when to approach Police, options for legal assistance, and relevant laws in Australia.
  • Reporting options—how to report image-based abuse to popular social media sites, as well as how to report an image to the Office, and what to expect. The Office can also advise about options to request image take down, based on the specific details of a report.
  • For those who may be in need of legal advice or counselling support services, the portal has links to set victims on the right pathways to emotional support and justice.
  • Resources, including information and contacts, as well as case studies and videos about different types of image-based abuse from people who have experienced it.

^Henry, Nicola & Powell, Anastasia & Flynn, Asher & Gendered Violence and Abuse Research Alliance & RMIT University. Centre for Global Research et al. (2017). Not just ‘revenge pornography’: Australians’ experiences of image-based abuse: a summary report. RMIT University, Melbourne.