Victims of ‘revenge porn’ most likely to be young people, RMIT study finds

0 Posted by - 11/05/2017 - News

By Sammi Taylor | @sammiiitaylor 

New research out of RMIT has revealed 1 in 5 people are victims of image-based abuse.

The first ever comprehensive study into “revenge porn” and its impacts has revealed the mass scale of victimisation across Australia, with teenagers, people with a disability, Indigenous Australians and members of the LGBTQI+ community most likely to be targeted.

An online, anonymous survey conducted by RMIT University and Monash University researchers analysed the experience of more than 4,200 people, revealing not only the wide reach of revenge porn but also the devastating effects these forms of abuse can have on victims.

The damaging psychological toll of image-based abuse is a cause for major concern, says lead researcher Dr Nicola Henry.

“Given that there’s already high rates of prevalence of depression and anxiety in young people, what our study findings confirm is that there is severe harm that results from image based circulation,” she says.

“It’s important to acknowledge that in order to draw greater attention to this phenomenon and to hopefully dismantle some problematic victim blaming attitudes.”

80 per cent of people who experienced “sextortion”— receiving threats that their intimate or personal images would be distributed without their consent — reported high levels of psychological distress, while 75 per cent of victims whose images were “leaked” reported moderate to severe depression and anxiety.

1 in 3 people aged 16 to 19 reported being a victim of image based abuse — a particularly alarming statistic, considering the already high prevalence of depression and anxiety in Australia’s youth.

Interestingly, men and women were equally as likely to be victims of image based abuse, a finding that Dr Henry says goes against the grain of mainstream media coverage.

“A lot of discussion in the media has been around female victims of revenge pornography. We found that both men and women were equally likely to report being a victim. So what that tells us is that image based abuse is not exclusively a gendered form of violence or abuse or harassment.”

But there are some clear differences in relation to gender, with the majority (54 per cent) of victims reporting their perpetrator was male, and women being more likely than men to be very or extremely fearful for their safety after having their images distributed.

“The results of our study are likely to be an underestimate—because we only include victims who have become aware that someone has taken or distributed images of them. Many victims are simply unaware that someone is creating an image of them without their consent. They might have been secretly recording them, or don’t know the images have been shared on the internet or on mobile phones,” Dr Henry told Catalyst.

The report also recommends a number of reforms designed to help stamp out “revenge porn”, but Dr Nicola Henry says it must begin with a change in language.

“I think the term ‘revenge porn’ is really quite problematic, because it does very little to help dismantle some of the victim blaming attitudes. That’s why we prefer the term ‘image based abuse’, because it recognises this is a form of abuse, not a form of pornography.”

“Hopefully once we can generate more community awareness around the impact of this issue, more victims will feel comfortable to seek help and support and to pursue action in the courts as well.”

The researchers have recommended a help line, similar to the UK’s established revenge porn hotline, to provide over the phone counselling and support to victims of image based abuse.

But stamping out this hateful practice, or at least starting the conversation around it, can and should begin at a university level.

“Within existing university programs on sexual violence and harassment… these programs can provide information and referral support services for victims and survivors. I think that should be extended to include victims of image based abuse,” Dr Henry said.

Dr Nicola Henry says that Australian universities need to support research into the intersections of gender, sexuality and technology and that online sexual abuse training modules and resources for university staff and counselors is a good place to start.

“One of the key things about this issue is consent and respect, and that’s what lies at the heart of the problem. More university prevention campaigns that focus not on what the victim did or didn’t do, but focusing on perpetrators actions and digital sexual ethics — that’s a really important step for universities to take to prevent this from happening in the first place.”

The researchers will present their findings (Not Just ‘Revenge Pornography’: Australians’ Experience of Image-Based Abuse) at a free public lecture at RMIT University on Friday 12 May from 5pm to 7:30pm.

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