explainer

When Noelle decided to google her own name, the screen instantly filled with 'disgusting' images.

“It was shock, disgust, my stomach sank, I wanted to vomit. You can’t even describe that feeling. Everything changed in the click of a second.”

At age 18, out of pure curiosity, Noelle Martin googled her own name.

Dozens of pornographic images popped up featuring her face, her name, and her occupation.

“They would juxtapose me against images saying it was me. They’d doctor it into certain positions, and they’d get more and more explicit,” Noelle, now 24, told Mamamia.

Some of the images had been taken from Noelle’s social media sites, but some of them had been taken from her friend’s accounts. She knows this because she’d deliberately not put those photos on her own sites –  she didn’t like them.

Side note: If sexual abuse is a conversation you’re trying to have in your house. Watch this video for tips on how to talk to your children. Post continues after video.

There were also professional photos from events she’d been to, pictures taken at university bars for instance, that the venue then uploaded to Facebook.

The stalking was thorough, premeditated.

Like any other 18-year-old Noelle was just trying to work out who she was. But it wasn’t the photos that left her the most scarred, it was the commentary left on the sites featuring the photos.

“Whale.”

“Cover her face and I’d f**k her body.”

The comments were degrading, dehumanising, and hyper-sexualised.

Noelle hadn’t even had a boyfriend yet. She was crushed. The issue wasn’t dominating discussion in the media and there were no human faces or stories to find solace in.

It was years before she could even talk about it, let alone build her confidence back up.

“I blamed myself, I was ashamed, I was powerless and I tried everything to try and get help. I tried to call police, I tried getting a private investigator.

“There were no laws against it. The term ‘image-based sexual abuse’ hadn’t even been coined,” she said of her experience in 2012.

Noelle Martin
Noelle is now a huge advocate for others who have been in her shoes.
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Now, in 2019 the issue is well and truly in the public sphere, with new research this week showing just how common a phenomena it is in society.

A staggering 10 percent of Australians aged between 16 and 49 have engaged in ‘revenge porn,’ or other types of abuse involving sexual photos and videos.

The RMIT research, which polled 4200 people, also revealed nine per cent had taken nude or sexual photos or videos without consent, with more than six per cent than sharing those photos.

Noelle admits she is surprised and saddened by the report - she had always hoped it was mainly overseas perpetrators, not ones in our own backyard.

So who are these monsters? You might be quite surprised, Sarah's* story might sound eerily familiar.

“I was seeing a guy and he was awful, he kept sending me dick pics without me asking,” she explained.

“When the whole thing [relationship] eventually fell apart I showed a lot of people the images.

“He was a mutual friend, I felt humiliated by how he had treated me and thought this was how I could get my power back.

“I justified it to myself by saying I never wanted the pictures and I didn’t ask for them,” she said.

In hindsight Sarah knows it was the wrong thing to do. Those photos were sent to her, for her eyes only.

Noelle, unfortunately, has experienced the worst end of the scale, and unlike most in the research - hers was by a stranger, not someone she knew.

It's thanks to her defiance that society, government and Australian law are even addressing it in the way they are today.

She was even awarded 2019 WA Young Australian of the Year for her efforts in bringing this issue to light.

Her perpetrators certainly messed with the wrong woman, and they know it.

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Noelle Australian of the Year
Noelle Martin has played an instrumental role in changing Australia's laws surrounding image based abuse.

They’ve since made pornographic videos using her face as a way of getting her back for speaking out. But there's no stopping Noelle. She regularly travels as a TEDx speaker and continues to educate others about this kind of abuse.

In Noelle's words: “I have come full circle, I am the strongest and happiest I have ever been.”

But that's not to say it wasn't a hard road.

"I was slut-shamed and victim-blamed for speaking out," Noelle told Mamamia.

"I have witnessed and experienced one side of it to the other side."

Her actions were a major factor in new laws being introduced and passed in New South Wales in 2017 and in 2018 at the Commonwealth level and in WA, making it a criminal offence to distribute non-consensual intimate images.

Corporations can be fined up to AUD $105,000 and individuals AUD $525,000 if they do not remove an image when requested to by the eSafety Commissioner.

The government is considering more new laws to boost online safety and just last week Queensland passed laws making it a crime to send or threaten to send intimate images of someone without their consent.

*name changed.

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