Nearly one in ten adults admit to taking nude images without consent

February 19, 2019 |

The Guardian with Revenge porn: nearly one in 10 adults admit to taking nude images without consent and the Canberra Times in One in 10 Australians have perpetrated ‘image-based abuse’ have reported on research by RMIT and Monash University in Image-based sexual abuse: The extent, nature, and predictors of perpetration in a community sample of Australian residents which found that 10% of adults have engaged in this problematical (and in many jurisdictions is criminal) conduct.  

The stories are not a product of detailed analysis but a pick up of the media release by the RMIT on Monday, 18 February 2019 which provides:

One in 10 people have committed image-based sexual abuse, according to the first comprehensive research into the issue in Australia.

Image-based sexual abuse involves taking, sharing or threatening to share nude or sexual images of others without their consent.

RMIT researchers led the online survey of more than 4,200 people aged 16 to 49.

They found nearly nine per cent of people had taken a nude or sexual photo or video of someone else without their consent, while more than six per cent had shared or distributed one.

RMIT Vice-Chancellor’s research fellow and chief investigator Associate Professor Nicola Henry said image-based abuse was much more than the colloquially-known revenge porn.

“Image-based abuse is a complex and diverse problem, and this is the first time we have been able to quantify the perpetration of it among a large sample of Australian adults,” Henry said.

“Perpetration can range from upskirting and downblousing to a partner out to get revenge after a break up by sharing or threatening to distribute images.

“We also know of computer hackers accessing a victim’s webcam and their personal computer files as well as sexual assaults or rapes being filmed.”

The research – undertaken in conjunction with Monash University and set to be published in Computers in Human Behavior next month – also highlighted community attitudes towards image-based sexual abuse.

The survey showed that many survey respondents held victim blaming-attitudes towards image-based sexual abuse.

The research also found:

  • Men were significantly more likely than women to self-report being a perpetrator of image-based sexual abuse;
  • Offenders were more likely to share photos or videos of people they knew such as a partner, ex-partner, friend or family member;
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual survey participants were more likely than heterosexual participants to engage in image-based sexual abuse;
  • Victims were also more likely to have self-reported as a perpetrator, however, being a victim did not always lead to offending.

Co-author and RMIT Associate Professor in Criminology and Justice studies Anastasia Powell said a number of measures were needed to address image-based sexual abuse.

“While people do still tend to blame the victims, there is also widespread agreement in the community that perpetration of image-based abuse should be a crime, which shows that Australians take these harms very seriously,” Associate Professor Powell said.

“We need nationally consistent laws, support and information for victims, as well as consistent action by social media and website providers.

“We also need education that moves away from blaming and shaming the victims, and places the responsibility back onto perpetrators.”

The latest survey builds on the researchers’ previous work highlighting the mass scale of image-based abuse victimisation.

One in five people had suffered image-based abuse, according to 2017 research.

That research also showed that many survey respondents held victim-blaming attitudes towards image-based sexual abuse.

More than 70 per cent of survey respondents agreed with the statement that “people should know better than to take nude selfies in the first place”.

However, four out of five Australians (81 per cent) agreed with the statement “it should be a crime for someone to share a nude or sexual image of another person without that person’s permission”.

Queensland is the latest state to criminalise revenge porn with Parliament passing the laws recently

Surreptitious photography has been around since the advent of the camera and later movie camera.  As cameras became more compact and less expensive and photography was democratised the practice of engaging in  lewd and lascivious conduct with a camera grew.  But with film there was a brake on the ability of distributing photographs.  Most people did not develop their own films and photographic labs did notify the police when suspect photographs were processed.  And most importantly there was  a taint to such behaviour.  

The advent of digital photography, the internet and, most importantly, smart phones with sophisticated camera capability has changed the dynamic.  The concept of sharing just about any image has erased taboos. This change in culture coupled with, or caused by, the extraordinary developments in digital photography and smart devices has given rise to sexting and non consenual intimate photography.  The law has stood on the sidelines until very recently.  Even now the response has been limited, balkanised and focused almost solely on criminalising conduct.  That is a failure of public policy.  The key principle is protection of one’s privacy.  The legislatures in all states and the Federal Government to date refuse to provide statutory recognition of a right to some form of privacy and permit a claim for an interference with right.  The Privacy Act does not assist as it relates to the collection of personal information and only for agencies and organisations with a turnover of over 3 million dollars (with some exceptions). 

Without a complete raft of laws which cover all aspects of privacy and data protection, an engaged regulator to deal with breaches of the Privacy Act and high profile prosecutions and civil actions for  image abuse and other forms of interference with privacy there is little chance of the culture changing.  The culture of impunity and permissiveness towards privacy invasive behaviour is entrenched.  Relying solely on the police to prosecute the occasional case and the E safety commissioner to issue take down notices is going to do very little, though that is better than nothing.  There has been a wasted decade of government inaction.  It will take a major effort to remedy this problem. 

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