It’s not easy to work out what to do when someone has shared an intimate, nude or sexual image of you without your consent. This ‘quick guide’ shows you how to connect with support services, request the removal of images and some of the legal options open to you under Australian law.
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 include:
- Your current or ex-partner sharing an intimate image on social media without your consent.
- A work colleague Photoshopping an image of you with an explicit image and sharing it broadly via email.
- A stranger taking an intimate image without your consent, also known as ‘up-skirting’ or ‘down-blousing’ or ‘creepshots’, and sharing it on a web site or porn site.
If you have experienced image-based abuse, you are not alone. 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.
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.
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. 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.
If you have been a target of IBA, the most important thing to remember is that it is not your fault and you are not alone. There are some concrete things you can do to take action, access support and understand your legal options.
If you have been affected by image-based abuse and would like emotional support, please contact one of the counselling and support services listed below.
3. What to do if you have just discovered that an image of you has been shared without your consent
Ensure immediate safety:
- Make sure that you are in a safe place.
- If you are at risk of immediate harm call Triple Zero (000) .
- If you are experiencing image-based abuse as part of an abusive relationship, contact your local police or a social worker.
If you are in an abusive relationship or have experienced domestic violence
Whilst we understand the urgency to get damaging content down, if you are in an abusive or volatile relationship, or the perpetrator is potentially violent, you may want to speak to police, your lawyer or a support service to ensure you have a safety plan in place before you make a take-down request. This is because the perpetrator may react violently once the image or video is removed or the account is deleted. This is particularly important when the person posting the abuse is also abusive to you or others offline.
If image-based abuse is being used to threaten, blackmail or control you or someone else, contact police or seek support from the services listed below before you remove an image. This is known as sextortion and may have legal consequences. You can also make a report with the Office, if you are unsure if this is sextortion and we can help direct you to the appropriate support services.
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:
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.
Remember, if you, or a friend, has experienced image-based abuse, you are not alone. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner is here to help. You can find more information on available support services.
Friends and family
Friends and family have a very important role to play in helping victims of image-based abuse. Research shows that victims often turn to friends and family first, and that reassurance and support go a long way to helping victims handle the situation. Friends and family who offer unconditional support, focus on the victim’s experience, and do not blame the victim, are the most helpful. A guide for friends and family is available here.
Victims of image-based abuse often want to have the 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.
If you have been the victim of image-based abuse you 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 your 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.
4. How can I get an image or video of me that has been shared without my consent taken down?
There are some key steps you can take to have your images or video removed. 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 your 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 requesting removal.
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 you might take if your image is posted on an unlisted website or service, including websites that promote abuse (also known as ‘revenge porn’ sites). You can also learn how to block your 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
You can make a report to the Office if you are a resident of Australia and:
- You are worried about contacting a website or social media service yourself
- You need help to contact a service or website
- You have tried, but the image is still online
Our expert team are ready to work with you and find the best way to help.
3. Contact the person with your image
An initial course of action could be to ask the person who has shared your image to remove or delete the image, if you think they will be reasonable. You can let them know they do not have consent to share or post your image.
An example of the kind of message you could send is provided here.
However, if you fear for your safety, or are experiencing image-based abuse as part of an abusive relationship, it is best to try other options.
5. What are my legal options?
If someone has shared nude, sexual or intimate images of you, or is threatening to, there may be laws to protect you.
The Federal Government is looking at ways to strengthen laws to better protect Australians against image-based abuse.
Engaging help from local police
How local police can assist depends on the laws which apply within your state or territory, and more general laws, including federal laws, which may help with image-based abuse. Local police can also apply for a protection order to protect you from a violent or abusive partner or person, if you need this.
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:
- Indecent images
- Child sexual exploitation
- 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.
Understanding the differences between civil cases, where the victim sues the alleged perpetrator, and criminal prosecutions, might also help you to determine whether you should go to the police. Learn more about what you can expect from a civil or criminal case.
If you report image-based abuse to police you will need to take detailed information about what has happened to help in any investigations. A simple guide about how to collect evidence can be found here.
A lawyer or legal service can help by discussing your legal options and the legislation which applies in your state or territory, including how to apply for a Protection Order if you need one. Your lawyer can also speak to the police with you, if required. Lawyers can advise whether criminal or civil charges could be pursued against the person who shared an image of you without your consent. Advice on where to get legal advice, including pro bono legal assistance, can be found here.
6. 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.