An almost doubling in the number of young Australians falling victim to ‘revenge porn’ has been linked to the pandemic and repeated lockdowns.
There were more than 1,000 incidents of image-based sexual abuse in the first three months of 2022, according to new statistics from the eSafety Commissioner, up by about 400 on the year before.
Of those new reports, 670 came from people aged 13 to 24, compared to 370 last year.
Tragically, experts aren’t surprised by the increase of ‘revenge porn’, or the non-consensual act of taking or distributing nude or sexual images, or images that might capture people in intimate situations.
“Unfortunately due to Covid and the number of lockdowns that we have had, the way that we can be intimate and connect with each other shifted online,” Dr Asher Flynn, Associate Professor of Criminology at Monash University, told Yahoo News Australia.
“We saw an increase in people starting to share images without consent and we also saw an increase in sextortion, where people threaten to share the image without consent in exchange for money or blackmail them for more photographs or imagery.”
Dr Flynn says the abuse can result in horrific impacts for victims.
“People feel controlled, they feel angry and we have had reports of suicide or attempts of suicide as well as people rating really highly in terms of depression and anxiety, and a sense of social isolation," she added.
“There is this a presence of feeling like you're never quite sure if the images are going to appear, or what kind of harms might happen in the future from the images being shared.
“There is kind of an ongoing sense of harm that doesn’t really end at any point after the images have been taken.”
Dr Flynn adds that those who face intersectional marginalisation often report higher levels of abuse, such as those who identify as LGBTQ+, intersex, Indigenous or First Nations or people who have a disability or don’t speak English at home.
Youth Law Australia, which provides legal advice to young people, says it has been receiving an increased number of requests for assistance since the start of the pandemic.
“For a lot of young people, their digital reputation is all they have,” solicitor Carolyn Jones told Yahoo News Australia.
“They live in the online space, that’s where people know them, it’s very important to them, and so they are highly anxious that this information is out there.”
She explains that for many victims a fear of having done the wrong thing prevents them from seeking help.
“There is a real concern among many young people that they may also have committed an offence themselves, by not understanding the laws around image-based abuse and what constitutes as child abuse material, and so I think suddenly they get very anxious.”
Ms Jones is urging anyone who may be the victim of imaged-based abuse to take screenshots where possible, report users or account details, block contacts, check privacy settings, don’t pay any blackmail demands, get legal advice as quickly as possible, and report an online harm to eSafety.
For perpetrators, she warns the consequences are very real.
“Image-based abuse and the potential distribution of child abuse material are very significant and can likely result in criminal charges leading to either incarceration or fines depending on what has happened.”
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