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revenge porn

Are we protected from revenge porn?

It is every person’s nightmare – a naked or suggestive photo, an angry, vengeful ex and the internet. ‘Revenge porn’ – the sharing of intimate or explicit photos online for the purposes of vengeance against an ex is a growing problem.

With access to cameras on every mobile phone and the general social media connectivity of pretty much everyone, the possibility of your photo being viewed by millions of strangers online is real.

Frighteningly, there are even websites devoted providing a place to post to revenge porn, and despite serious efforts to eradicate these and make them hard to find on the internet, they are so far still accessible.

That can’t be legal……

According to the Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, there is not enough protection for the many women who are contacting legal services for help dealing with revenge porn, or threats of producing revenge porn from ex partners.

There is currently no federal law against revenge porn although the government is looking at developing civil penalties, such as fines and injunctions, to better target both the perpetrators who share such images and the websites that host them. Public consultation on the measures is open until the end of July, and the Government hopes to introduce new legislation by the end of the year.

While Victoria has passed specific legislation criminalising the malicious distribution of intimate images without the subject’s consent, Dr Nicola Henry of La Trobe University is concerned that the other states and territories are relying on archaic legislation to prosecute offenders.

New South Wales and South Australia have state laws that can be broadly interpreted to cover the criminalisation revenge porn. The only federal law that has been successfully used to charge revenge porn perpetrators is the federal crime of ‘using a carriage service to menace and harass’.

An enquiry by the NSW parliament into the legal protection available for victims of revenge porn is in the process of discerning whether the current legislation afforded by that state is adequate.

Domestic violence issue

Revenge porn exists because technology allows it to. Mega power players in the technology field, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook and Reddit have all made commitments to removing revenge porn from their search engines and posts, with Google making available an online form with which a victim can request that images of them be removed from Google results.

Questions are raised over whether internet harassment and stalking (including revenge porn) is a ‘new’ crime and needs new legislation, or whether it is an extension of current legislation that protects the victims of stalking, blackmailing and domestic violence.

What is the future for laws protecting victims?

Dr Henry says that in relation to legislation protecting the privacy of victims the legislation is mostly based on protecting the rights of the individual against a corporation, and that legislation protecting victims from sexually based offences generally fail to recognise the ‘ongoing harm that sharing intimate images without consent causes to victims.’

While Australia tries to decide what to do about the gaps in the law regarding revenge porn, individual states in the US are gearing to pass protective legislation and England and Wales have banned revenge porn and set up helplines for victims.

Fiona McCormack, CEO of Domestic Violence Victoria sees the need for a ‘consistent response across states’, which is extremely important because the nature of the internet allows an abuser to be in one jurisdiction committing a crime, while the victim may well be in another area altogether.

Generally speaking, internet offences must be addressed in the jurisdiction in which they occur.

There is only limited protection

Unless revenge porn material is posted or threats are made in Victoria, the only state with legislation specifically prohibiting revenge porn, then a victim must rely on a broad interpretation of the pre-existing legislation to protect them from abuse.

There is an obvious need for protection from this sort of online violence, but as Australia struggles to keep up with the rest of the English speaking world in this regard, it remains to be seen in from which direction that will come.

If you or someone you know wants more information or needs help or advice, please contact us on 08 8210 5400 or email lawyers@georgiadis.com.au

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