real life

When home-made porn is used as a weapon.

revenge porn laws
(Note: This is a stock image.)

Dividing all your jointly-owned property after a relationship breakdown is never fun: debates about who keeps the coffee table, or the white goods, or the dog.

But there’s one issue that’s a little scarier when it comes to dividing property post-break-up: what happens to those nude photos you took together?

For a lot of women, saucy photos taken in more intimate times are hard to get rid of. And chillingly, they’re increasingly being deployed as a tool of domestic abuse — a weapon of humiliation or blackmail used by ex-partners to control women.

It’s a story Sarah*, who once took a series of explicit photos and videos with a partner of five years, knows all too well. When her then-boyfriend grew “aggressive and violent” and the relationship ended, she says he refused to hand the files over — marking the start of a personal and legal nightmare for the late-20s woman.

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“Once we had broken up it would have been within the first couple of days that he started telling me that he was going to show people these photos,” Sarah tells The Project in a segment to be aired tonight.

“His friends have all texted me and messaged saying that they have seen the photos … that’s when it got really concerning,” she says.

“I worry that one day my mum or friends, kids, work people, somebody might see something that obviously I don’t want anybody to see,” she says.

“He was trying to make me feel horrible.”

Sarah says she approached the police for help, but she claims they dismissed the issue as “just a domestic thing” and told her there was nothing they could do until the images were actually posted online.

revenge porn laws
“He was trying to make me feel horrible,” revenge porn victim Sarah says.

Sarah and her ex are now engaged in a messy legal battle — and, in the absence of many support groups for women in her position, she’s feeling fearful and unsupported.

“I was really violated, especially getting the message knowing that he had been showing people,” she said. “And I did go downhill quite a lot. I went off Facebook because I was embarrassed.”

Sarah’s tale is a disturbing one — but what’s worse is that represent just part of a growing trend.

As RMIT criminologist Dr Anastasia Powell tells The Project, “revenge porn” is now being used in domestic violence situations, where an abusive man can make threats like: “If you report this to the police I’ll send those pictures to all our friends”.

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“We really see the taking and sharing of these intimate images, without consent, as part of a broader pattern of gender-based violence,” she says.

“We spend too much time… blaming and shaming the victims who have had their images shared online, and we don’t actually focus on the people who are distributing these images to begin with,” she says. “We really need to do a lot more to refocus the issue on the people who are doing the harm.”

revenge porn laws
“We spend too much time… blaming and shaming the victims…We really need to do a lot more to refocus the issue on the people who are doing the harm,” criminologist Dr Powell says.

Sadly, there are no Federal laws relating specifically to the prosecution of revenge pornographers. While the Commonwealth Criminal Code does make it an offence to use the internet to harass, menace or offend, there are still significant concerns that Australian laws may not offer adequate protection for targeted individuals.

That’s especially the case given that there has not yet been a single successful, Australian-led prosecution for revenge porn.

Dr Powell agrees that our current laws “just weren’t designed to deal with the kinds of harm that this causes” — and that some changes are needed to ensure they keep pace with new technology.

“Often these images are shared with just a one off click of a button, so it doesn’t always constitute a ‘repeated cause of action’ for those laws to apply,” she tells The Project.

While Victoria is developing new laws to prosecute men who share somebody’s intimate images, they won’t take effect for months. And while IT developers are  seeking to address the problem with new apps designed to keep your private photos safe, it’s clear we can’t rely solely on that approach  to protect women.

Sarah, for one, is hoping for some progress in the law’s approach to revenge porn soon, so she can start to move on from her traumatic experience.

“I definitely would like to see that if there are photos taken… you should be allowed to get those photos back,” she said.

“The other person doesn’t need the photos and I don’t believe they should have control over them.”

* NB: Names have been changed.

The Project, which will air this segment on revenge porn tonight, will air on Network Ten at 6:30 (EST).

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