Why Did it Take the Liberals Three Years to Criminalise "Revenge Porn"? - Terri Butler MP, Labor for Griffith

Why Did it Take the Liberals Three Years to Criminalise "Revenge Porn"?

Three years after Labor introduced a bill to criminalise non-consensual sharing of intimate images (or "revenge porn"), the Liberals have finally gotten on board.

It was an honour to speak on the Enhancing Online Safety (Non-Consensual Sharing of Intimate Images) Bill 2018.

You can read my full speech below.

It's been about three years since the member for Gellibrand and I first introduced a private member's bill seeking to deal with what was then colloquially known as 'revenge porn' but is now more accurately described as image based abuse or the sharing of intimate videos and images without consent. When we first tabled that bill, it's fair to say that we were surprised to receive a lukewarm response from the government. It seemed to us to be a no-brainer. There was a growing problem in the community where people were being targeted, harassed and victimised through either threats to share intimate images or videos, or the actual sharing of intimate images and videos.

When something like that happens to a person, it can ruin them not just for a short period but for a very long time—because those things stay on the internet, don't they? You can imagine future employers googling someone—it's now pretty routine when someone applies for a job—and, when something like that comes up, it's pretty hard to understand the level of embarrassment and humiliation that it could cause. Of course there's the humiliation and embarrassment that the person suffers at the time because of the invasion of their privacy but also, more broadly, the reaction from family and friends that can occur.

When the member for Gellibrand and I first moved the private member's bill, we were hearing from academics, service providers and individuals about the impact these things were having on peoples' lives, including causing serious psychological conditions for people. It was a fairly new thing in 2015 to legislate specifically against the sharing of intimate images and videos without someone's consent; however, a few jurisdictions in the United States had done it, and there was beginning to be some interest in doing it from some of the jurisdictions here in Australia.

We were concerned that we'd end up with a patchwork of different forms of regulation if we left it to the states. We thought that there should be a very clear, unified message coming from the Commonwealth about the fact that this is not acceptable behaviour. When I say there could've been a patchwork of regulation, you see in some jurisdictions a requirement for the perpetrator to have intended to cause harm. In other jurisdictions, it's just the lack of consent—that's enough. These sound like fairly minor considerations, but in fact they can change the likelihood of success in a prosecution.

We also thought that the broader question of leadership was a really important one. There was too much of a propensity at the time for people to excuse this sort of conduct, to say, 'You know, it's just kids. They're just having a laugh. It's just teasing. The person shouldn't have allowed the photo to be taken in the first place.' These victim-blaming or minimising views about the non-consensual distribution of intimate images and videos, we thought, were completely inappropriate, and what was required was for the nation's parliament to stand up and say: 'This is wrong. It's not a minor thing to do to someone. It's wrong, and it should be criminal.' That doesn't stop state jurisdictions from legislating and proscribing these things themselves, and I'm well aware that the minister at the time was doing some work with state attorneys-general and ministers to look at what could be done to have a harmonised scheme across the country in relation to this issue and other abuses of technology that harm people. I appreciate that work on the part of the government, but what we thought was needed was a very strong signal from the highest authorities in the country and from this parliament, the nation's parliament, to say: 'It's not right. You can't do this to someone.'

We continued to persist with that private member's bill, and there was a very good Senate investigation into the bill. I want to place on record my gratitude to the senators who were involved in that Senate inquiry and to all of the submitters who took the time to make submissions in relation to the private member's bill that we moved on this issue more generally, including the CDPP, the Federal Police and a range of stakeholders, as well as stakeholders from civil society.

As I said, at the time I thought it was a no-brainer that this was something that would be done eventually by consensus. Imagine my surprise that it's now three years later, and we're only just now debating this legislation as a government bill in the House of Representatives. We in Labor didn't want to wait. We took to the 2016 election a commitment to criminalise the non-consensual sharing of image based abuse. Obviously we didn't win that election, so we weren't in a position to bring government legislation to this House. But we took it to the election, and after the election, on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women—also known in this country at White Ribbon Day—the Leader of the Opposition made a further commitment that a future Labor government would criminalise image based abuse of this type if we were successful in winning the election.

We have had an unwavering commitment to tackling head-on this pernicious form of abuse, and we continue to have that unwavering commitment. I was until very recently the shadow assistant minister for preventing family violence. In that capacity I spoke with a range of women's organisations and women's legal services who told me that this issue was rife. I've also spoken with young women who are facing this as an issue right now. I have to say, I'm 40 years old, and I really can't imagine what it would be like to be 20 years old, to be just growing into yourself, becoming who you're going to be but also having to face this really difficult set of circumstances whereby there is so much invasion, so much surveillance, such a lack of privacy and so much risk because of the communications technology that now exists, which simply did not exist when I was that age. Whatever we can do to show leadership about the proper use of those technologies and the proper respect that should be afforded to people in respect of their bodily autonomy, their right to privacy and their right not to be humiliated and abused, then we should do that.

I want to also mention that as well as speaking to a lot of stakeholders about this issue I've had the opportunity to work with some really good people in our own ranks to come up with the original private member's bill that the member for Gellibrand and I tabled. I particularly want to record my appreciation to Stephanie Watkins, who was in my office at the time, and to Lara Freidin, who was in Tim Watts's office at the time. They can both be really proud of the work they've done to deal with this issue. They are both young women themselves and really have done so much to advance the cause of standing up against abuse of women in this country through their work here, and it's really an enduring legacy. I know we all have a lot of staff who work very hard, and I think sometimes we could do a bit more to acknowledge the work that they all do and the contributions they all make to changing the way this country works. I see that some of the minister's staff are here as well, and I'd like to express my appreciation to everyone who's worked on this bill and on the amendments we moved during the consideration-in-detail stage.

This bill is something that has been a long time coming. For those who have been victims of what we now call image based abuse, I hope it brings them some comfort to know that their public advocacy, in some cases, has not been for nothing and that this bill will go at least some way to preventing what has happened to them happening to other people. There have been some really famous cases of sex tapes being leaked. There have been some really famous cases of women standing up in respect of ongoing abuse and harassment from former and current partners. Those cases have been appearing in the media for many years.

This is an opportunity for us as a nation to stand up together in a bipartisan way and say: 'This sort of abuse is not on. It's wrong to use peoples' most-intimate moments, most-trusting moments as a weapon against them.' If a photo or a video like this exists, it's because someone has trusted someone else so much. For that abuse of trust to occur as a means of, for example, seeking to control someone or seeking to cause them harm because you're angry at them, it's particularly egregious and it deserves its own specific criminal offence. Obviously, we have the carriage service criminal offence. That's important. Some of the submissions in the Senate inquiry into our private member's bill noted that that wouldn't necessarily cover the full range of situations that a specific offence could cover. But the other important thing about a specific offence, of course, is not just the tools that it equips the police with but the message it communicates about what this parliament believes should be a criminal offence. I'm very grateful to everyone who's worked on this bill. I commend the bill to the House, and I certainly look forward to its passage.

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