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How to help someone deal with image-based abuse

You can play an important role in helping a friend or family member if someone shares or threatens to share an intimate image or video of them.

No matter how young or old they are, they need non-judgemental support that’s focused on how they’re feeling and what they can do about the situation. You can make a big difference by letting them know you’re there to listen and by helping them get support.

On this page:

What are the impacts of image-based abuse?

When someone shares or threatens to share an intimate image or video of a person without their consent, the experience can be very harmful.
It’s common for the person in the image or video to feel betrayed, broken-hearted, scared, angry or humiliated. They could also feel ashamed or embarrassed, especially if they were scammed into sharing nude or sexual content. If they’re young, they may be worried that they’ll be in trouble if their family or school finds out.

The experience can be made worse by critical comments or harassment from people who see the intimate content – this is why eSafety helps remove it.

If a person abused this way doesn’t get the right support, the experience can have long-term impacts on their sense of safety, trust and self-esteem. It can cause a sense of hopelessness and despair, and may even lead to depression and self-harm.

Our research shows that people who have experienced image-based abuse often turn to friends and family first, for reassurance and support. But the feelings and fears they’re going through can make it hard to tell others what’s happened and ask for help.

Who's to blame?

It’s important not to judge, blame or shame anyone who experiences image-based abuse – even if they willingly shared the nude or sexual content in the first place. No one deserves to be abused. 

If a child in your care is in this situation, try to stay calm. Being angry will only add to their stress. Remember that young people are growing up in a world that’s very different to most of their parents and carers. These days it’s common for teenagers to send and receive nudes. Reassure them that you will continue to support and love them – this is important for their mental health. Also, keep in mind that sharing images without consent often happens as part of other harms such as bullying, harassment, and family and domestic violence.

If someone else you know is in this situation, remember that it’s common for adults to send and receive nudes, just like young people. 

Unfortunately, image-based abuse, including ‘revenge porn’ and ‘sextortion’, is also becoming more common as we spend more of our lives online. It can affect people of all ages, cultures, religions, genders, sexual orientations, education levels and bank balances. 

So if someone tells you their intimate image or video has been shared, or that another person is threatening to share it, focus on their current situation – not what you think they could have done differently.

What can I do?

There are many ways you can support your friend or family member.

Make sure they’re safe and not about to harm themselves

If their life or safety is at risk and they need urgent help, call Triple Zero (000).

If they’re having thoughts about suicide or self-harm, encourage them to call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

Listen without judgement

You may feel shocked, upset or angry, but try to stay calm and focus on understanding what they’re going through and how it’s making them feel. Remember, it’s not their fault. The person who shared their image or video, or who’s threatening them, is the one who’s done the wrong thing.

Use supportive language

It’s important to avoid phrases that might make them feel worse, like ‘You must be so embarrassed’ or ‘I would want to die if I were you’. You could start with:

  • This isn’t your fault
  • I’m glad you came to me
  • I know it took courage to tell me about this
  • Let’s talk to…

If they’re angry with themselves, ask them to think about the caring words they would use if this happened to a close friend, and then help them to apply those same words to themselves.

Help have the image or video removed

Let them know that eSafety can have their intimate photo or video removed and help stop its spread online, or help stop the threats to share it. You could show them our information about image-based abuse and help them fill out our online report form

You can also help them create a hash (digital fingerprint) to prevent the image or video being uploaded elsewhere.

Let them know how to get more support 

People sometimes find it easier to talk with a counsellor or psychologist than with a friend or family member, especially if they feel embarrassed or ashamed. You could help them contact a free, confidential counselling and support service. Lifeline provides 24/7 crisis support on 13 11 14 for people of all ages and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 is for young people up to 25.

You can also show them our page on How to manage the impacts of image-based abuse. This includes tips on how they can take care of their wellbeing and feel comfortable online again.

Check how they’re doing

Look out for signs they may be depressed or anxious – these can appear immediately or sometime after the experience. They can include changes in their:

  • mood
  • sleep patterns 
  • appetite
  • energy levels
  • willingness to socialise
  • attendance at school or work. 

If you notice any of these changes, talk with them about how a psychologist or counsellor may be able to help, and the options available

Help them stay socially connected

Many people feel worried, embarrassed or uncomfortable around others when they have experienced image-based abuse. They may need help to build up their confidence again, both offline and online. You could help them keep in contact with trusted friends or set up safe social opportunities that are likely to be positive. 

After a bad experience they may be scared to go online again. But staying offline may make them feel left out and more isolated from the people and experiences that usually make them feel part of a community. You could suggest they change their device or account settings so only a small group of people can contact them while they’re online, at least until they feel confident again.

Encourage them to do things they enjoy 

If they’re feeling down, they may need a reminder about what they enjoy. Suggest doing something together that they usually like – for example going to the movies, going for a walk or sharing a meal.

You can do the same thing when they’re ready to go back online – for example, you could scroll their favourite posts with them, or if they’re a gamer you could play their favourite game together or ask them to teach you. They may like you to schedule regular check-ins by direct message while they’re online, until they get their confidence back.

Get help for yourself

Helping someone else cope with image-based abuse can be very stressful. If you find it hard to handle on your own, reach out to a counselling or support service

If you’re helping someone who prefers to speak another language 

Let them know they can call the Translating and Interpreting Service on 131 450. The service can help them contact a support and counselling helpline, or to speak with eSafety or police once they have reported the image-based abuse. Guides on how to deal with image-based abuse are available in English and many languages, including Arabic, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Vietnamese, Tamil, Thai, Persian, Filipino, Hindi, Spanish, Punjabi, and Karen.

If you’re helping someone who’s deaf or has a hearing impairment

Let them know they can call Speak and Listen (relay call options) on 1300 555 727. The service can help them contact a support and counselling helpline, or speak with police or eSafety’s investigators once they have reported the image-based abuse.

Extra tips for supporting young people

  • Thank them for being brave enough to tell you, if that’s how you found out.
  • Reassure them that help is available.
  • Don’t look at or store the image or video, as it can be classified as child sexual abuse material.
  • Be aware that your child may have been tricked into sharing nude or sexual images or videos by a scammer trying to blackmail them or by a sexual predator. Child sexual exploitation, including ‘sextortion’ and ‘grooming’, should be reported to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE).
  • Other types of image-based abuse can be reported to eSafety – help your child collect evidence about what happened and follow the rest of the steps. (If they’re under 16, a parent or guardian can report it without them being involved.)
  • Help them manage their feelings – start by naming the emotions and showing you understand what they must be going through. 
  • Keep checking for signs of depression and self-harm, even after the image-based abuse has been dealt with – Headspace has useful tips.
  • You could ask their school for support – it may be best to check this with your child first. The school could help by: 
    • looking out for any concerning behaviour directed towards your child, such as shaming or bullying
    • letting you know if they notice signs that your child may be depressed or anxious, such as missing classes or falling asleep because they’re tired.
  • Help your child to follow their usual routines, to keep things as normal as possible.
  • It may also be helpful to show your child the section for young people on our website – it includes advice on what to do if your nudes have been shared, if someone is threatening to share their nudes or if you’re being pressured to send nudes.

More options to think about

  • You can access resources about dealing with sexual abuse on the Raising Children Network.
  • Start regular conversations about online behaviour, consent and respectful relationships. See our tips for talking about sending nudes and sexting and watch our video for parents and carers on online sexual harassment and image-based abuse.
  • Depending on the situation and the age of your child you might like to change the rules or parental controls for their devices and online access – brainstorm with your child and let them know whether the changes are permanent or temporary.
  • It can be difficult to support your child if they experience image-based abuse or sexual abuse online. Parents and carers need support too. You can access support through Parentline to help you.

Stay safe

Emergency help in Australia, any time of the day or night

If your life or safety is at risk and you need urgent help Triple Zero (000).

 

If you’re having thoughts about suicide or self-harm call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

You can also get help and support from one of these counselling services

13YARN

Confidential, culturally safe crisis support line for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Available all day, every day.

1800RESPECT

Confidential counselling, support and information for people affected by sexual abuse or domestic and family violence. Available 24/7.

QLife

All ages. Counselling and referral for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and/or intersex. Phone counselling and online chat available every day from 3pm to 12am.

Kids Helpline

5 to 25 year olds. All issues. Confidential phone counselling available all day, every day. Online chat available 24/7, 365 days a year.

More support services

Last updated: 15/01/2024