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Image-Based Abuse: Are your Private Images Safe?

Australia update.

With the growing importance and use of technology in our lives, privacy issues are not something unheard of. In fact, a study by RMIT University and Monash University published in February 2020 found that one in three Australians have been victims of what researchers called “image-based abuse”.

This type of abuse happens when an intimate image or video is shared without the consent of the person pictured. These images include “photos or videos where a person was nude, where their breasts or genitals were visible, where they were engaged in a sex act, or where they were showering or bathing and may also include the threat of an intimate image being shared.”

Arguably, the occurrences of image-based abuse have increased at a rapid pace especially with the ubiquity of mobile phones. Within our cell phones, numerous platforms allow the sharing of images between people including photos which can be classified as being “private.”

Images and videos of someone are considered as “personal information” under the Privacy Act 1988 so long as the identity of the person can be identified or is reasonably identifiable. When we create our social media accounts, most of us do not read the fine print which inter-alia outlines the privacy policies of the social media organizations.

On Facebook for example, if any content is shared with public (i.e. when you select “Public” from the 'audience selector') it is considered public information. These public posts can be seen by anyone on or off Facebook and its associated products including people who do not have an account with Facebook. Further, any content shared by a user can be reposted by others who were not intended to be the audience.

There are no ways to monitor the circulation of content. Disturbingly, this can include private images of people who may not be aware that their photos or footage are being circulated. While requests can be made to websites and online platforms to take down the images, it may exist a significant time lag between the request being made and taking down the picture. Within this slow time-frame and with the expansive reach of social media, it is impossible to predict and control the circulation.

In recent years, social media platforms have developed tools to address those issues and prevent reposting. Actor Olympia Valance has been one of the recent victims of this cyber-crime.

As a victim of this, I have had to fight to try and contain these images from reaching the broader public and for media not to publish stories using my name. Taking intimate photos for yourself, or to share with a partner, is not a shameful thing to do. Stealing them and sharing them online without consent is.” she said.

The study by RMIT and Monash also found that while the abuse risk is higher for those who share consensual sexual self-images, even among those participants who said they never consensually sent, or been pressured to send, someone else a sexual self-image, “1 in 10 were still victims of image-based abuse”.

Legislation has been introduced to criminalise this behaviour in every state (NSW, VIC, SA, WA, NT, QLD,ACT) and territory besides Tasmania. However, apparently, the rates of image based abuse have dramatically increased since the laws were introduced.

Not many Australians know that it is a criminal offence to share intimate images without consent. Thus, education of the community of their rights and repercussions to perpetrators is the need of the hour.

There are profound impacts of such occurrences for the victims. Research conducted by the e-Safety commissioner highlights:

  • 42% of the victims said such instances negatively affected their self-esteem and mental health

  • 55% of victims felt humiliated

We as a community need to stand by victims and challenge the perpetrators to deal with the issue.

By Aakanksha Khurana

© ISMA - 2020

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