‘Be careful posting images online’ is just another form of modern-day victim-blaming

By Anastasia PowellHateSpeech

The revelations this week of yet another vile website where men and boys trade in the non-consensual images of women and girls has police and many in the broader Australian public concerned about these harassing behaviours.

Yet some of the media and public discussions of these image-sharing websites and forums also show a disturbing similarity to other examples of sexual harassment or violence against women.

Many, it would seem, are all too ready to shift the blame towards the victims. Advice circulating via various public statements, media coverageand school-based education resources repeatedly tells girls and young women to “be careful what you share” because these images will be “out there forever”.

‘Be careful what you share’

There are several problems with this kind of response.

Perhaps most importantly, such advice contributes to the shaming and humiliation of victims by placing the responsibility back onto them for their humiliation. Feelings of shame and humiliation are common reasons many victims give for not making reports to police about sexual forms of harassment and abuse.

The acting Children’s eSafety Commissioner has called on victims in the most recent case to come forward with information to assist in what may be an international child-exploitation material investigation. So, avoiding sentiments that may further marginalise victims is particularly important.

Advice to victims “not to share intimate or private images” is also problematic. It obscures the variety of methods that harassers use to obtain images.

While little information is publicly available in this most recent case about the range of images and how they were all obtained, research suggests privacy of images is not always in the victim’s control.

In ongoing research, my colleagues and I have found that, while many images of women and girls are obtained from public or semi-public social media accounts, many others are obtained illegally through hacking accounts and internet-enabled devices, through “upskirting” and “creep shots”, as well as through images originally shared privately with an intimate partner.

A further problem is that we seem to reserve a special kind of victim-blaming when it comes to sexual forms of violence, abuse or harassment. No-one ever told a victim of identity fraud that they should never have stored their money electronically in the first place, or how silly they were to make purchases online.

We seem to understand that cybercriminals exploit, trick and hack victims’ information in a range of ways to commit their crimes. We don’t expect people to avoid all forms of e-commerce simply to prevent themselves from being victimised.

Yet last year, when nude images of hundreds of Queensland women were posted online, authorities reportedly warned victims about storing sensitive images on their digital devices at all.

A broader trend?

It is important to provide everyone with advice on how to protect their information online and to be aware of the potential for exploitation and abuse of their material.

But the line between providing advice and placing responsibility back onto victims is easy to cross. Often it lies in the balance of the messages directed to both perpetrators and victims……

Read the full article on The Conversation.

It takes a village: law reform can’t be the only response to online child abuse material

By Marg Liddell and Anastasia Powell

The Victorian government introduced legislation this week to deliver on key changes recommended by an in-depth review of the state’s sexual offences.

Among the changes is the replacement of the term “child pornography” with “child abuse material”. This shift in terminology is particularly welcome.

What’s in a name?

It might appear a small change to some. But naming this material to clearly identify the abuse it depicts is important.

Rather than the minimising term “child pornography”, calling these images “child abuse material” makes clear that the images involve child abuse, and that consumers of these images are colluding in child abuse.

However, this shift is not merely semantic. The new laws also extend the definition of child abuse material to include images involving other forms of abuse, regardless of whether or not the image is “sexual”.

This is an important change that brings Victoria into line with several jurisdictions, such as New South Wales, that include depictions of a child as a victim of torture, cruelty or physical abuse in their criminal laws.

New forms of sexual exploitation and abuse

The changes will also bring Victoria’s laws up to date with new forms of exploitation and abuse of children and young people that are associated with communications technologies.

Read the full article on The Conversation, or download the RMIT research report into women’s experiences when they learn a partner or family member is involved in child abuse material

Cyber justice: how technology is supporting victim-survivors of rape

By Anastasia Powell and Tully O’Neill

We tend to think of “justice” as meaning having one’s day in court – and that justice is done when the perpetrator is convicted and punished. But for many victim-survivors of sexual violence, that day may never come.

While one in five Australian women and one in 22 men will experience sexual violence in their lifetime, most do not report it to police. Even for those who do, conviction is difficult. And the trial process can further add to victims’ trauma.

Research with victim-survivors has also repeatedly found that “justice” itself can mean many things. Some survivors describe “justice” as meaning that their experience is heard and the offender is held responsible for their actions.

Some victims also describe wanting to be able to tell the whole storyabout what happened to them to an audience that believes them and that acknowledges the wrongfulness of the harm done.

Perhaps this is why some survivors are using social media and other online platforms to share their experiences of sexual violence and seek support from a community of peers.

Read more at The Conversation or the journal article in Theoretical Criminology.