Make revenge porn a crime

No one wants private images sent around to their friends, family or workmates without their consent. So called “revenge porn” occurs when someone shares or threatens to share private sexual images or recordings of someone else, usually a current or former partner, without their consent.

Revenge porn is not just embarrassing; it’s a horrible sexual violation that can have a serious impact on victims’ health and even their personal safety. It’s no wonder women who’ve been subjected to revenge porn suffer from depression and anxiety. Some have tragically committed suicide.

Often there’s a temptation to blame the victims. To tell women and girls they’re stupid and naïve to have allowed the photos to be taken in the first place. But when you think about it, this is just the 21st century equivalent of telling a woman wearing a short skirt that she was ‘asking for it’ – victim blaming. We need to build a society where both the public and our parliaments are clear on the importance of consent.

Revenge porn is the most extreme example of how new technologies are being used to exercise power and control over women, to shame them, and to silence them. It should be criminal. 

If you agree, please show your support – we intend to introduce a Private Member’s Bill into the Commonwealth Parliament to criminalise revenge porn throughout Australia, but it will only come on for debate if there is a strong community demand for action. Sign our petition and help us end revenge porn.

Tim Watts MP and Terri Butler MP

Opinion Piece

Imagine that you’re an 18 year old young woman and you’ve just fallen in love for the first time.

You share things with him that you’ve never shared with anyone. You still have that youthful innocence and you haven’t yet been burned by someone that you love. You believe no one you love would break your trust.

Now, imagine you’re 23 and the relationship is starting to crumble. The things he used to do, that seemed lovely and sweet; now seem overly-protective and controlling.

You’ve graduated university and started working. He doesn’t like that you have your own life now – he’s no longer the centre of your universe. He finds your new friends threatening, so he gets upset when you spend time with them.

You do your best to try to make things work, but nothing seems to make him happy.

Eventually, you tell him it’s time for you both to start seeing other people.

He stares at you menacingly, and pulls out his phone. You stand there awkwardly while he scrolls through the photos on it. He shows you the photo with a leering grin on his face and you feel sick to your stomach.

It’s a photo of you, from when you were 18. You’re naked and clearly engaged in sexual activity.

It’s the kind of photo that makes you blush. You would be mortified if anyone except your boyfriend saw it. Maybe the photo had been taken at his insistence maybe it was your idea.

Either way, you never thought that someone that you trusted would exploit that trust. You never thought that he would want to hurt you that much.

He puts the photo away and tells you that you need to watch yourself. He makes it clear that he has something to hold over you now. If you even think about disobeying him or disrespecting him, let alone leave him, then that photo won’t be private any more.

This is what’s become known as “revenge porn” and it’s a new way that men are exercising power and control over their partners and former partners. Reliable data is hard to find, but according to a McAfee survey reported by the American Psychological Association, one in ten ex-partners has threatened to expose intimate images of their ex-partner online, and sixty percent of those who threatened to expose intimate photos followed through on their threats.

No one wants private images sent around to their friends, family or workmates without their consent.

It’s not just embarrassing; it’s a horrible sexual violation that can have a serious impact on victims’ health and even their personal safety.

In our modern, connected society, once an image is made public, the violation is repeated every time it’s shared via email, social media or, as 400 South Australian women and girls recently experienced, on a dedicated revenge porn website.

Abusive websites like this can even publish victims’ contact details, leading to a stream of sexual and abusive messages and calls from men, as well as stalking. It’s no wonder women who’ve been subjected to revenge porn suffer from depression and anxiety.  Some have tragically committed suicide.

Often there’s a temptation to blame the victims. To tell women and girls they’re stupid and naïve to have allowed the photos to be taken in the first place. But when you think about it, this is just the 21st century equivalent of telling a woman wearing a short skirt that she was ‘asking for it’ – victim blaming. 

We need to build a society where both the public and our Parliaments are clear on the importance of consent. Whether you’re using a smartphone or you’re engaging in sexual activity in person, if you don’t have consent then that should be seen as a form of sexual assault.

There’s a movement for change. Recently the Victorian government moved to criminalise revenge porn. Overseas, the United Kingdom government has done so, as have many states in the United States. We believe Australia’s parliament should act as well.

The Federal Government might not be able to stop all of the online harassment and abuse to which women are subjected– and we know that for high profile women, it can be constant and horrific – but revenge porn is an extreme example that should be made a crime.

According to academics Dr Nicola Henry and Dr Anastasia Powell, specific legislation criminalising revenge porn sends an important message to men– it would demonstrate to the community that the sharing of private sexual images without consent is not acceptable.

The Federal government can and should introduce legislation making it a criminal offence to use telecommunications networks to share private sexual images and films without the consent of the person depicted. Revenge porn is the most extreme example of how new technologies are being used to exercise power and control over women, to shame them, and to silence them.

It should be criminal.

If you agree, say so – we intend to introduce a Private Member’s Bill into the Commonwealth Parliament to criminalise revenge porn throughout Australia, but it will only come on for debate if there is a strong community demand for action.

Sign our petition and help us end revenge porn. 

Tim Watts and Terri Butler

 

This opinion piece was first published in Mamamia on Wednesday, 2 September 2015.

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