Not Just ‘Revenge Porn’


Associate Professor Nicola Henry & Dr Anastasia Powell at the public lecture event “Not Just ‘Revenge Porn'”

“Revenge porn” – the sharing of nude or sexual images without consent – has been widely understood as the spiteful actions of a jilted ex-lover. As the term has gained popularity, however, so too have understandings grown about the use of nude or sexual images as a tool of abuse and control by perpetrators of domestic violence.

But according to our new research, image-based abuse affects many Australians from across diverse communities and in different types of relationships. The picture is more complex than has previously been identified.

Key findings

Our recent survey of 4,274 Australians aged 16 to 45 found that 23% reported having been a victim of image-based abuse.

Most common were sexual or nude images being taken of them without their consent. 20% of those surveyed reported these experiences.

Also common was sexual or nude images being sent onto others or distributed without consent. 11% of those surveyed reported these experiences.

Finally, 9% of survey respondents had experienced threats that a sexual or nude image would be sent onto others or distributed without their consent.

Some groups in Australia were more likely than others to report having been a victim. One in two Indigenous Australians, one in two Australians with a disability, and one in three lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians reported having suffered image-based abuse victimisation.

Also, 30.9% of those aged 16 to 19, and 27% of those aged 20 to 29, reported having been a victim.

– Anastasia Powell, Nicola Henry, Asher Flynn.

Read the complete article on The Conversation.

FactCheck Q&A: are there laws to protect against ‘revenge porn’ in Australia?

Excerpt from Q&A, March 6, 2017. Quote begins at 3:10.

In the lead-up to International Women’s Day, an all-female panel of guests on ABC TV’s Q&A program discussed issues ranging from sexual assault and domestic violence to “revenge porn”, where a nude or explicit image is shared without consent.

Actor and presenter Faustina Agolley questioned what the law says on this issue, asking: “I thought there were laws to kind of protect [against] revenge porn? There aren’t?”

Let’s check the facts…..

Patchy state laws, and no specific national laws

Revenge porn is a media-generated term referring to the distribution of nude, sexual or sexually explicit images without the depicted person’s consent, often via social media or mobile phone.

Yet the term itself is misleading. Not all perpetrators are motivated by “revenge”, and not all images can be described as “pornography”. The term might also be offensive to victims, as it minimises the harms they experience when an intimate image (photo or video) is created or shared without permission.

This is partly why academics and government agencies are increasingly using the term “image-based abuse”.

There are specific laws in Victoria and South Australia that criminalise the distribution of an intimate or “invasive” image without consent. In both Victoria and South Australia, it is also a criminal offence to threaten to distribute an intimate or invasive image.

But there are no specific federal laws making the non-consensual creation or distribution of a nude or sexual image a criminal offence. There are also gaps in other Australian state and territory laws where no specific criminal offences exist.

In our research with police and legal services, some suggested that federal telecommunications laws such as “using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence” (Section 474.17 of the Criminal Code) could be used to respond to image-based abuse. But unless it is clear that a perpetrator intended to cause those impacts to a victim by distributing an intimate image, some of our interviewees thought it was a legal grey area and that clearer laws were needed.

There have been proposals to introduce new federal laws to tackle image-based abuse. To date, the federal government has committed to introducing a civil penalties scheme, which would assist victims in reporting image-based abuse and having the images removed.

Other states have also investigated whether new laws are needed. For example, Western Australia has proposed its own legal reform to tackle image-based abuse by a partner or ex-partner in the context of family violence. The proposed law would allow restraining orders (also known as intervention or protection orders in some jurisdictions) to prevent a perpetrator from distributing or publishing intimate images of another person. A breach of the order would be a criminal offence, attracting up to two years in prison.

In short, there is currently a piecemeal approach to legal protections against image-based abuse (or “revenge pornography”) in Australia.

While criminal and civil laws exist in some states and territories that could be (and have been) used to provide victim redress, there is no national consistency.

In states or territories without specific legislation, many victims simply have no recourse to justice if existing laws do not apply and/or if the victim cannot afford to seek remedies through the civil law, which is often costly and out of the reach of ordinary Australians.


Faustina Agolley was right to be unsure on Q&A about what the law is on revenge porn in Australia – because it all depends on where you live. Specific laws against so-called “revenge porn” do exist in two states, Victoria and South Australia. But there is no specific criminal offence at the federal level or in other states and territories.

– Anastasia Powell, Nicola Henry, Asher Flynn.

Read the complete article on The Conversation.

A crime by any other name: Online harassment of LGBTI people

By Brigitte Lewis

The Internet was once considered the domain of the unreal, a kind of pseudo-utopia where anything goes and anything can be said or posted, at least for young, middle-class, white heterosexual men. Yet just as society at large is called to acknowledge the ways in which privilege operates to silence all those who are not born white, into upwardly-mobile families, gendered male and also heterosexual, so too must the online world be called to acknowledge the ways in which it operates as a breeding ground for inequity and abuse.

A recent study by La Trobe University’s Dr Bianca Fileborn found that street harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people is alarmingly high. We know homophobia lives on the streets, in our workplaces, and in our political debates over marriage equality. What we really don’t know is whether this kind of harassment extends to the online worlds many of us only leave to sleep.

A huge percentage of the LGBTI population are active online. In the US, according to a 2013 survey of LGBTI people conducted by the PEW Researchcentre, 80 per cent of LGBTI respondents participate in social networking sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, compared to just 58 per cent of the general public. For me and many others in the LGBTI community, the Internet serves as a place of connection in a world that is so often hostile to particular manifestations of desire. Whether it’s for dates, information, or merely feeling seen, the net offers a space that can foster social inclusion. But, like all things, there is a flip side to this experience.

Increasing attention has been focused on digital abuse and cyberbullying, particularly around young people. The experiences of adult LGBTI people, however, have been scarcely studied, particularly in Australia. Here’s what we do know.

In 2011 MTV and the Associated Press surveyed 1,986 people between the ages of 14 and 24 in the United States. They found that that 51 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people were frequently discriminated online, second only to overweight people. The most prevalent slurs were “that’s so gay” (65 per cent), “slut” (55 per cent) and “fag” (53 per cent). It’s a reminder that classroom barbs seep into the digital worlds we inhabit with seeming ease.

A year later in 2012, Queensland University of Technology surveyed 528 first year Australian university students. The study found that non-heterosexual men were more likely to be cyber-bullied than non-heterosexual women. Interestingly though, the experiences of heterosexual and non-heterosexuals online regarding abuse was actually very similar. The study’s authors reminded us that the impact of cyberbullying may outweigh the effects of traditional bullying due to the limitless audience and ability for comments, pictures and videos to go viral and therefore never have an end, either in time or location.

Perhaps the most well-known case of cyberbullying against a member of the LGBTI community is that of 18-year-old Rutgers university student, Tyler Clementi. Clementi’s roommate captured him having sex with another man by secretly using his webcam without his consent. Dharun Ravi went on Twitter to announce Clementi was “making out with a dude” which he watched with a friend and then live streamed to his 150 twitter followers. A day later Clementi committed suicide in what the media called cyberbullying but what the US courts declined to label as a hate crime. Academic Jessica S Henry calls it bias-based cyberbullying, citing anecdotal evidence that in the month of September 2010 alone, the same month that Clementi committed suicide, at least nine other men also committed suicide after being harassed online because of their sexuality.

In 2015, UK’s Stonewall found that 5 per cent of LGBT adults and 23 per cent of LGBT pupils reported that they had been the target of homophobic abuse or behaviour online in the past year. This research prompted the UK Government to launch a website to help victims of online abuse.

Closer to home, Amy Middleton and her team at Archer Magazine were recently the subject of online abuse. Archer is pitched at telling the stories of the LGBTI community in Australia that mainstream media doesn’t address and does it so well they won a UN Human Rights Media Award. But still they were attacked by a prominent blogger for their appearance, work, bios,  and identities.


The conversation we need to have: Victoria has made progress on tackling domestic violence, but there is still much to be done

The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence has sparked an important national debate, but that needs to be backed up by work that responds to violence in the community, and a strategy to stop it before it starts, Brigitte Lewis, Lisa Harris, and Georgina Heydon write.

After the Royal Commission into Family Violence released their findings in March this year, the Victorian Government committed $572 million towards implementing 65 of the 227 recommendations they came back with.

Innovative ideas and approaches to address family violence are urgently needed, and there are several new initiatives already doing important work.

In 2014, Victoria Police set up a specialised family violence unit called Taskforce Alexis which was trialled initially in southeast Melbourne. Taskforce Alexis provides an holistic approach to responding to family violence with both family violence specialists and police working in a single team. It has proved a resounding success with a drop in repeat offenders reported and is exactly the kind of partnership and cross-agency co-operation that the Royal Commission recommendations advocate. Following this, in 2015, Australia saw its first Family Violence Command rolled out and headed by Assistant Commissioner Dean McWhirter which provides high-level oversight of police responses to family violence.

The use of technology has also created space for innovative responses to family violence, with the SmartSafe+ mobile app winning the Victorian Premier’s iAward for Public Sector Innovation in June this year. Developed by the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, the app enables women to keep an online diary using written, pictorial, video, and audio entries that are then stored on a cloud account to enable security. Similarly, The Neighbourhood Justice Centre is trialling an online intervention order app which includes plain language explanations to help improve access to justice. Such technical innovations further demonstrate collaboration in action, with tech experts working together with the domestic violence sector to develop safe options for victims.

Existing specialist family violence court divisions have also been a success. Yet with more than 46,000 intervention orders finalised in 2015, more specialist court services are needed across the state, with only two operating at present.

However, there remain many other challenges to address…


Notes from the Field: Canada

Rape Culture Talk

According to Dr Anastasia Powell a Senior Research Fellow in Justice and Legal Studies at RMIT University and visiting scholar at the University Of Alberta (Canada)

“Communications technologies are increasingly being used by perpetrators to stalk, harass and coerce women.”

Dr Powell gave a public lecture at the University of Alberta last week in which she discussed the ways that technologies, such as smartphones, online sites and social media, are more than mere tools in violence against women but also extend the harms of violence in various ways.

“Too often people dismiss and minimise online communications as less serious forms of abuse. Police have been known to tell women, ‘just turn off your cell phone, deactivate your Facebook account, don’t go online’. Its something I have heard frequently from women’s and legal services both in Australia, and during my interviews with services here in Canada.” But Dr Powell argues that “such advice significantly underestimates both the nature of these violences, and the fact that online communications are embedded not only in our social lives, but also our professional lives. You can deactivate Facebook, but if your abusive ex-partner is posting nude images of you online, that will still come up if an employer Googles your name. It will still be used by others as a basis for harassing you. Turning women away from technology is not the answer.”

Over the last five years Dr Powell’s research, including with her collaborator Dr Nicola Henry, has uncovered a wide range of technology-facilitated sexual violence.

“We’ve found that perpetrators are using the threat of distributing nude images as a way to control and coerce women. In some cases, the threat is made to prevent women taking out a protection order or leaving an abusive relationship. In other cases, the threat is made in order to coerce a sexual relationship. That’s not just an ‘online’ harm – that’s a sexual assault.” 

In addressing such technology-facilitated violence, Dr Powell says we need a combination of legal reform, training for police and courts, as well as prevention and education that challenges a ‘rape culture’: 

“There is still some controversy around the concept of a ‘rape culture’. But I think it is a very useful concept for thinking about the various ways societies minimise sexual violence and harassment, blames victims, while making excuses for the perpetrators. We have to challenge those attitudes in our communities, as well as in the practices of our legal and educational institutions, if we are going to achieve real and sustainable change to prevent sexual violence in all its forms.” 

Dr Powell is now writing a case study of Canadian legal and other responses to technology-facilitated sexual violence, drawing on interviews conducted during her recent visit.

Notes From the Field: Mozambique

Dr Georgina Heydon has recently returned from field work in Maputo, Mozambique where she was working with her project collaborator, Dr Eliseu Mabasso of the University Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo.

Georgina et al_Maputo_2016

Together, they conducted a series of in depth interviews with agency staff in NGO and government departments with a focus on the investigation of family violence in the formal and informal justice systems in Mozambique.

Towards the end of the trip, she wrote:
“Some of you would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the interviews we’ve been conducting here with human rights and women’s support agencies.

Often I feel pretty guilty taking up time to interview people whose clients are sitting out in the baking heat waiting for their appointment.

The stories and experiences are in many ways universal: women are frightened to go to the police, ashamed of their husband’s offending, they go back to the perpetrator, feel powerless to leave etc etc. Depressingly familiar.

However, all of the women we have met in justice agencies have been steadfast in their determination to change things here and help the victim-survivors as best they can.

They are real fighters and appropriately after International Women’s Day yesterday, remind me to never take feminism’s gains for granted.

The photo was taken at the Women’s Association for Law and Development (MULEIDE). Dr Mabasso is on the far left, and I am standing with paralegal staff and counsellors from the agency in front of one of their beautiful hand made banners. We are smiling because the power came back on so they could turn on the computers and the air conditioner and get on with their work.”