Some people share intimate images out of malice while others participate without thinking about the consequences of their actions. Do you regret sharing someone’s nude or sexual image or video? This ‘quick guide’ may help you understand the impact your actions may have had and provide guidance on making amends.
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.
Around 20% of Australians have experienced IBA.^ Although women aged 18-24 are morelikely to be targets, IBA impacts people regardless of their age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, education or bank balance.
Examples of image-based abuse you may have been involved in:
- Sharing an image of your current or ex-partner on social media without their consent.
- Photoshopping an image of a work colleague with an explicit image and sharing it broadly via email.
- Taking an intimate image of a stranger without consent, also known as ‘up-skirting’ or ‘down-blousing’ or ‘creepshots’, and sharing it on a website or porn site.
2. What are the impacts of image-based abuse?
Image-based abuse hurts victims. For every person who has been a target of image-based abuse, the experience is different. When an intimate image is shared without consent, the effects can be devastating. Targets of IBA may feel angry, annoyed, humiliated, embarrassed, overwhelmed, depressed or downright devastated. It can be terrifying to discover that an intimate image of them has been shared without their consent. Even more distressing can be the knowledge that the distribution of this image may now be out of their control, or that it could form part of their 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.
As someone who has shared an intimate image or video, it is important that you understand the devastating impacts IBA can have on victims.
3. What is meant by ‘consent’?
Consent is when someone clearly agrees to do something.
Image-based abuse happens when someone has shared another person’s intimate, nude or sexual images online, without their agreement. Even if they agreed for someone to take or have an intimate image of them at one point in time, this does not mean that consent has also been granted for it to be shared with others or for other people to have or see this image.
Even if you possess intimate images of someone, it is not your right to share them. Only the person depicted can give consent for these images to be shared.
4. Victims of image-based abuse are not to blame
Everybody has the right to live without online abuse or the threat of abuse.
Some people hold out-dated attitudes that blame victims of IBA, when the blame should fall squarely upon perpetrators. 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. Image-based abuse is never OK.
5. What if I didn’t mean to hurt anyone?
Sharing a nude or sexual image without consent is abuse, whether you meant to hurt the person or not. Whatever the reason, even if someone sends their image to you, sharing it without their consent is not okay. Contacting the person and apologising can be a good first step to help make amends for the hurt you may have caused.
6. How can you make amends for some of the hurt you have caused?
Your actions may have already hurt the victim. You need to act quickly to stop more hurt. These steps may go some way towards reducing the damage you have caused:
- Delete the image from your phone, hard drive or any other device.
- If you have posted a nude or sexual image without another person’s consent on social media or other websites, remove it immediately.
- Ask people you have shared the image with to delete it immediately. If they have shared the image ask them to contact others to also delete it, and to remove it from websites where it has been posted.
- Don’t pass the image onto anyone else.
- Challenge any bullying towards the victim that may happen after you shared the image. Tell the people bullying that you were the one in the wrong, not the person in the image.
- If you know the person in the image, tell them you are sorry. Ask what you can do to help.
7. What could happen if I share a nude or sexual image of someone without their consent?
In some circumstances, sharing an intimate, nude or sexual image of someone is a crime, especially if you did it to hurt the person in the image.
Possessing, creating or sharing sexualised images of people under 18 may be a crime. A person who possesses, creates or shares sexualised images of someone under 18 can be charged with a criminal offence and may even risk being forced to register as a sex offender. This would prohibit them from working or volunteering in places involving children and may require them to regularly report to police and have restrictions placed on their freedom of movement.
State laws differ around Australia and the action taken by police may also differ. For example, in some jurisdictions, a 16-year-old who takes a sexualised photo of themselves on their mobile phone and sends it to someone is committing a crime. In another example, a 19-year-old who is sent a sexually explicit image of a 17-year-old may be liable of being charged with a criminal offence for possessing a sexualised image of a minor.
However, be aware that Commonwealth law is applicable in every state and territory and state police can charge under Commonwealth law.
There may also be other consequences such as:
- Exclusion from school / university, which may affect your studies
- Damage to your reputation and character
- Loss of trust from others.
8. Where to find help
Professional support can help you make better choices in the future. There are a number of counselling services available free of charge where you can seek help. These include:
All ages. Counselling for anyone affected by sexual assault or domestic and family violence (including family members). Open 24 hours daily.
16-25 year olds. All issues. Online resources only (no telephone/online chat support).
All ages. Counselling and referral for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and/or intersex. Open 3pm-12am in your state, every day.
9. 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.