One in Five Australians Has Been a Victim of Revenge Porn

The first comprehensive research on so-called revenge porn has shed light on the "mass scale of victimisation" across Australia and its sometimes devastating impact.

"We need to rethink our approach both from a legal perspective but also as a community, to change attitudes that often blame the victims and play down the very real harm caused by image-based abuse", said RMIT legal studies lecturer Anastasia Powell.

Men were more likely to be perpetrators, while women held greater fears for their own safety, according to the study by RMIT University and Monash University.

RMIT and Monash universities surveyed nearly 4300 Australians aged 16 to 49 and found image-based abuse is far more common than previously thought.

The study findings are from a national online survey of 4274 people aged 16 to 49.

Lead researcher Dr Nicola Henry from RMIT University said the law was struggling to catch up with such widespread abuse.

Given that online abuse is rampant with the younger generation, it was unsurprising that young people aged between 16 and 29 were found to be some of the most likely victims of image-based abuse. Also, people who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual were more likely to be targeted, as 36 percent from these groups reported abuse compared to 21 percent of heterosexuals.

"Our survey only captured those victims who had become aware their images had been distributed, whereas some victims may never discover that their images have been taken and distributed", Monash senior criminology lecturer Asher Flynn said.

If the images had been distributed, 75 per cent of victims experienced "high levels of distress", she said.

The researchers recommended making image-based abuse a federal crime and creating a helpline similar to tone established in the United Kingdom in 2015.

As a outcome of the abuse, victims generally experience repercussions to their mental health, including high levels of psychological distress such as anxiety, depression and fear for their safety.

The federal Office of the eSafety Commissioner has received more than 350 complaints of image-based abuse since October 2016.

Henry notes that Australia has a lack of criminal laws around revenge porn as only two states - Victoria and South Australia - have specific laws against distributing images without consent, reports the BBC.

About one-fifth of people in the survey had an explicit photo taken of them without their consent. Women were more likely to be victimized by a partner or ex-partner and to have a stranger take a non-consensual image of them. Researchers will next extend the survey to incorporate New Zealand and the UK.

Vanessa Coleman

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