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Family Law

Revenge porn – or sexual abuse?

By August 10, 2017No Comments

By Gianna Huesch

The important issue of revenge porn has been making international headlines over the past week thanks to celebrity Robert Kardashian posting revenge porn images of his ex-partner Blac Chyna on his social media sites, broadcast to his audience of more than nine million people.

Chyna has now successfully obtained restraining orders against Kardashian which include forbidding him from posting further material. Her high profile lawyer Lisa Bloom, who has framed this as a major women’s rights issue and firmly stated that “revenge porn is domestic abuse”, is currently exploring further remedies with possible charges to come against Kardashian under California’s revenge porn laws.

Mirroring the situation here in Australia, the US has been trying to criminalise revenge porn at a national level; currently 38 states have specific revenge porn laws. In Australia, there is no national law criminalising the non-consensual distribution of sexual images, though charges are sometimes brought in relation to “using a carriage service to cause offence or to harass or menace another person” under section 474.17 of the Criminal Code.

Around the country, specific revenge porn laws vary across the states and territories, with Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and now NSW having enacted legislation making revenge porn a criminal offence. For example, NSW’s newly enacted revenge porn laws carry three years jail for recording or distributing intimate images without consent, and also criminalises making threats to do so.

The Crimes Amendment (Intimate Images) Bill also changes the definition of distribution to include not only sharing an image online, but also simply possessing an image without consent.  The offending party must also take action to “remove, retract, recover, delete, or destroy any intimate images recorded or distributed” by them–as difficult as this may be with electronic images that have been liberated onto the internet.

News reports suggest that since October last year, over 350 complaints were made by Australians to the office of the eSafety commissioner. And a RMIT survey of 4000 participants found that 1 in 5 Australians described themselves as victims of revenge porn, with the findings also indicating that certain groups are more heavily impacted:

“More concerning still are how the numbers change for marginalised groups. The survey found the number of victims increased to 1 in 2 for people with disabilities and those who identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Age and sexuality were also factors, with the numbers changing to 1 in 3 for people aged 16 – 19 and people in the LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning) community.”

The RMIT researchers argue the term revenge porn can minimise harm to victims because of the connotations of a link to commercial pornography and because of the focus on the content of the images “rather than on the abusive actions of perpetrators”.

“So-called revenge porn isn’t always about revenge and victims didn’t always produce the material, which is why Dr Nicola Henry of RMIT finds the term ‘image-based sexual abuse’ more fitting.”

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner uses the term “image-based abuse” and defines it as “when intimate or sexual photos or videos are shared online without consent, either to humiliate or shame someone, or for the ‘entertainment’ of others”.  Images may have been legally obtained during a relationship and shared after a relationship breakdown, or they may be stolen or hacked from another person’s devices or cloud accounts.

For those affected, the harm suffered can be extremely serious. According to the RMIT study:

“We found that victims of image-based sexual abuse experienced high levels of psychological distress, consistent with a diagnosis of moderate to severe depression or an anxiety disorder”.

Aside from psychological repercussions, revenge porn can also negatively impact on victims’ professional lives. For example, one ex-wife lost her job working with children because her ex-husband had shared intimate images to a porn site and her employer became aware of those images.

If you or a loved one is caught up in revenge porn – whether as a perpetrator or a victim – please do not hesitate to contact Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400 to discuss the issue and how we may be able to help.

Read Australia’s eSafety Commissioner’s information sheet here: https://esafety.gov.au/esafety-information/esafety-issues/image-based-abuse.

Read about the RMIT study: http://particle.scitech.org.au/tech/more-than-revenge-image-based-sexual-abuse-in-australia/

Read about the NSW laws: http://www.elle.com.au/news/revenge-porn-finally-illegal-in-australia-13589)

Read about the Kardashian case: https://www.wired.com/story/rob-kardashian-blac-chyna-revenge-porn/

Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance.

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