Study reveals majority of ‘revenge porn’ convictions linked to family violence

Poppy Morandin and Jimmy Singh.

 

Victoria’s Sentencing Advisory Council has found that offences of ‘revenge porn’ are highly linked to family violence.

The report, which is the first of its kind in Australia, revealed that 58% of image-based sexual abuse offences, were committed in the context of family violence.

Image-based sexual abuse describes the “non-consensual creation and sharing of intimate and sexual images and recordings, and threats to create and share such images and recordings.”

There are various motivations behind the offence, with resulting varied impacts on victim survivors.

A purpose may be within the pursuit of exerting coercive control on a victim through threats to distribute images, often for the sense of power provided related to possessing intimate moments of another.

It can also be done for the purposes of improving social status through sharing images with peers, or for material benefit through the exercise of extorting money by threatening to distribute images, otherwise known as ‘sextortion’.

It is a prevalent behaviour, with 10% – 23% of Australians having experienced some form of image-based sexual abuse.

Most perpetrators are male, and those more likely to be victimised and to experience more severe harms include females, lesbian, gay and bisexual people, disabled people, and First Nations peoples.

Despite this marked prevalence, there are incredibly low reporting rates, due to perceived insignificance, victims blaming themselves, or fear of reprisal.

Statistics suggest that merely one-quarter of recorded offences are ultimately sentenced.

Worryingly, during the COVID-19 lockdowns the Office of the eSafety Commissioner reported that there was a significant growth in such behaviours.

Threatening to distribute an intimate image was the specific offence most strongly linked to domestic and family violence, noting that in most cases, image-based sexual abuse was sentenced alongside other unrelated offences.

Such strong correlation is concerning, in light of the fact that accused persons whose offending occurs in the context of family violence are found to commit more offences, often of multiple types, in comparison to IBSA offenders whose behaviour does not.

The Sentencing Advisory Council found that the most common offences that were sentenced alongside image-based sexual abuse was breaches of intervention orders, which is similar to breaching an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) in NSW.

In 74% of cases image-based abuse was sentenced alongside other offending.

‘Up skirting’ offences, where an image or video is taken of a person’s private parts without their knowledge or consent, were not found to be linked to family violence.

However, such offences were commonly sentenced alongside sexual offences against children, often related to child pornography.

The report recommended that a wider level of awareness be contributed to the issue, in order for the community to truly understand the criminality of the behaviour and its role within serious patterns of behaviour relating to family and sexual violence, stalking and child pornography.

In raising such awareness, reporting rates and victim-survivors’ experiences could be improved.

In NSW, Division 15C of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) regulates the recording and distribution of intimate images.

Offences include recording an intimate image without consent (section 91P), distributing an intimate image without consent (section 91Q) and threatening to record or distribute intimate image (section 91R).

The maximum penalty applicable for each of these offences is a fine of $11,000, imprisonment for 3 years, or both.

Click here for an outline on the law on distributing intimate images without consent (revenge porn) in NSW.

The Commonwealth law also covers this kind of offending, prescribing up to 5-years imprisonment for using a carriages service to transmit, advertise, make available, publish or promote private sexual material (section 474.17A Criminal Code Act 1995 (Clth).

A carriage service includes text, phone call, social media and emails according to section 7 of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth).

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