Online abuse targeting women

Women can experience high levels of abuse online, which can damage their confidence, self-esteem and feelings of personal safety.

Understand the different types of abuse and the pathways available to get help and support.

You can report the abuse to the social media service or platform it was posted on. Depending on the platform, you can generally block, report, ignore or mute the abuse. For tips on how to protect your personal information, block someone and direct links to report abuse, see The eSafety Guide.

eSafety has legal powers to help protect people who live in Australia from the most serious online abuse and harmful content. This includes content posted publicly or communicated through an online or electronic service or platform, including social media, games, chat apps, emails, messages (including SMS), forums and websites. 

We also work with online services or platforms to have the content removed. If they don’t remove it, eSafety can take further action, such as issuing a fine or seeking a court injunction. Sometimes the person who posted the content can also be fined, if they don’t remove it.

You can report online abuse to eSafety if it meets the threshold for one of the regulatory schemes that allow us to have seriously harmful content removed.

Adult cyber abuse is online content or communication which is menacing, harassing or offensive and intended to cause serious harm to someone who is 18 or older. 

Image-based abuse is when someone shares, or threatens to share, an intimate photo or video online of you without your consent.

Cyberbullying of children is when someone uses online content or communication to seriously humiliate, seriously harass, seriously intimidate, or seriously threaten a child or young person under the age of 18.

Illegal and restricted online content includes material that shows or encourages the sexual abuse of children, terrorism or other acts of extreme violence, and material which is not suitable for children, such as pornography. 

If technology is being used to abuse, stalk, threaten or defame you, there are laws that can help. Collecting evidence will be important if you want to take legal action. You can learn more about how to collect evidence and take screenshots in our ‘how to’ videos. 

If you are the target of online abuse, remember it is not your fault. Everyone should be free to interact online without the fear of abuse. Below we outline different types of abuse and what you can do to take action.

Trolling

The term 'trolling' generally refers to when someone posts or comments online to deliberately provoke an argument or emotional reaction. 

Trolls may post anonymously or under a fake name, so they feel free to say things without being held responsible. They often try to downplay the impact of their behaviour, claiming anyone upset by it is over-reacting.

Trolling can be damaging and harmful to individuals. This can include posts and comments that target a person because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or disability, or are discriminatory in some other way.

If online content targets an adult and it is menacing, harassing or offensive and intended to cause serious harm it’s called 'adult cyber abuse'. This behaviour can be reported to the service or platform. The eSafety Guide has links to help you to report to the various platforms. If they don’t remove the content within 48 hours, report it to eSafety. 

Read our advice on how to deal with adult cyber abuse.

Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking is a form of tech abuse, and in some instances, may meet the threshold of eSafety's regulatory schemes that allows us to have content removed. Cyberstalking may include false accusations, abusive comments, attempts to smear your reputation, threats of physical or sexual violence or repeated unwanted sexual requests. It may also include monitoring, identity theft and the gathering of information that may be used to threaten, embarrass or harass.

Cyberstalking is often accompanied by real time or offline stalking. Never let cyberstalking go on for too long — if you feel unsafe report the abuse to police now. Call Triple Zero (000) or contact your local police station.

Our advice for people experiencing cyberstalking as part of domestic and family violence, is useful whether the person cyberstalking you is known to you or a complete stranger. There is also advice on cyberstalking included in our advice on adult cyber abuse.

Image-based abuse

Image-based abuse is when someone shares, or threatens to share, an intimate photo or video online of you without your consent. It may sometimes be called 'revenge porn'.

To be defined as 'intimate' the image must show one of the following:

  • your genital area or anal area (whether bare or covered by underwear) or
  • your breasts (if you identify as female, transgender or intersex) or
  • private activity (for example, getting undressed, using the bathroom, showering, bathing or engaging in sexual activity) or
  • you without attire of religious or cultural significance that you would normally wear in public.
     

Learn more about image-based abuse and how you can take action. You can report image-based abuse to eSafety, request that images are removed and get help and support.

What is image-based abuse?

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Image-based abuse can happen to anyone.

There’s more help for Australian victims of image-based abuse than ever before.

If you’re a victim of image-based abuse, eSafety can help. 

Image-based abuse is when someone shares or threatens to share your intimate images or videos

An image is intimate if it shows nudity, sexual activity, or a person without religious or cultural clothing they would normally wear in public

It also includes digitally altered images where a person’s image is modified to appear intimate.

It’s happened to one in ten adult Australians and this figure is even higher for some groups such as women aged 18 to 24.

Image-based abuse can take a variety of forms. Ex-partners may do it to shame or get back at someone. 

Friends or peers may do it for social standing, out of social pressure or even for a laugh at someone else’s expense.

Others use it to blackmail, typically for money or more intimate images.

Image-based abuse also frequently occurs as part of domestic or family violence.

No matter where you live in Australia, there are laws to protect you from image-based abuse.

There’s eSafety’s civil penalties scheme, a world first, which covers all of Australia. There are also criminal laws enforced by police.

At eSafety, we work to help victims of all ages experiencing image-based abuse.

We talk through the options, provide support and work to ensure positive outcomes for victims.

This includes having intimate content and offending accounts removed quickly. 

and also taking action against the person responsible. 

To report image-based based abuse or find out more about how eSafety can help, visit our website. 

Overview of image based abuse

Sexual extortion

Sexual extortion is a type of image-based abuse. It is a form of blackmail where someone threatens to share intimate images of you online unless you give in to their demands. These demands are typically for money, more intimate images or sexual favours. Perpetrators often target people through dating apps, social media, webcams or adult pornography sites. While sexual extortion can be used by individuals, organised crime is often behind it when the perpetrator demands money. Commonly the perpetrator is not based in Australia.

Learn more about sexual extortion and how to deal with it.

Fake accounts and impersonation

Online abusers may set up fake social media accounts in your name, or in the names of other people, in order to abuse you, monitor you, harm your reputation or scam you. Fake accounts are sometimes used to abuse, bully and harass people. They are also used by organised crime as part of romance scams, designed to trick people into giving money and paying for other gifts.

You can report fake accounts to the social media service or platform in which they were created — see The eSafety Guide for direct reporting links. Learn more about online scams and identity theft and how to protect your personal information. If you think your current or ex-partner may be setting up fake accounts in order to abuse or monitor you, read our advice on how to identify tech abuse.

Doxing and swatting

Doxing occurs when your personal details are shared or publicised online. This may result in offensive comments and unwanted calls or visits from strangers. Swatting occurs when an abuser makes a hoax call to emergency services in an attempt to get a large number of police or emergency service responders to go to your home address. This can be triggered by a false report of a bomb threat, hostage situation or that someone at your address is experiencing a mental health emergency or is suicidal. 

You can report doxing and swatting to police and follow our advice on adult cyber abuse.

Defamatory comments

If someone has posted defamatory comments online intended to harm your reputation or the reputation of your business, there are a number of steps you can take. Firstly, collect evidence of the defamatory comments — learn more about how to collect evidence by taking screenshots in our ‘how to’ videos. You can also block unwanted contact or report it to the social media service or platform it was posted on — you will find direct links to report defamatory content in The eSafety Guide. It is also a good idea to update your social media privacy and security settings.