National revenge porn legislation to impose fines for abusers slated for this year

The Federal Government is planning to introduce legislation to impose fines for revenge porn before the end of the year.

Key points:

• Civil penalties will punish sharing or threatening to share nude images without consent

• Research shows one in five Australians have experienced image-based abuse in some form

• Karen Bentley from WESNET said victim shaming is one reason for low reporting rates

A civil penalties scheme punishing the taking, sharing or threatening to share nude images without consent has been in the design stage for around 12 months, and is finally nearing completion.

The Government is currently drafting the legislation, which would see hefty fines come in over the top of the current patchwork of state criminal laws.

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner will administer the civil penalties scheme expected to be before Parliament before the end of the sitting year.

“A civil penalties regime would give our office more powers to issue take down orders and the like,” said eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant.

“And it could again help take out [for] the victim, to prosecute these expensive cases and get them the relief that they’re looking for.”

The most comprehensive research to date suggests one in five Australians have experienced image-based abuse in some form.

Civil penalties carry a range of remedies including injunctions and enforceable undertakings, and are aimed at speeding up the process for taking images down.

Low reporting rate for image-based abuse

Associate Professor Nicola Henry from RMIT, who has researched image-based abuse, said the present patchwork of state and territory laws was inadequate.

“The only jurisdictions that currently have specific offences in place include South Australia, Victoria, NSW and the ACT,” Dr Henry said.

“Those jurisdictions that don’t have specific criminal offences in place to tackle image-based abuse, they may rely on other offences that you’ve got, [like] stalking.

“Unfortunately the problem with stalking is it often requires like a course of behaviour. It has to be harassment over a period of time.”

Victoria’s revenge porn laws were introduced in 2015, but so far there have been only 209 arrests and summons.

Senior Sergeant Brett Meadows, a detective at Victoria Police, admitted the rate of reporting was on the low side.

“I would expect that there would be more of it happening out in society, but just people don’t come forward and that’s a problem that we’ve got,” he said.

“We need them to come forward so we can try and put a stop to it.”

Women told ‘it’s all in your head’

There are many reasons why victims of image-based abuse may not come forward, chief among them the embarrassment they may feel.

Karen Bentley from WESNET, the peak body for women’s domestic violence services in Australia, said victim shaming was still a big problem.

“Women’s experience is either minimisation, so [they’re told], ‘it’s all in your head, it’s a bit of a joke, don’t worry about it, there’s no harm done’,” Ms Bentley said.

“We know that women are often told, ‘if you don’t want to be abused online, get off technology’.”

But Senior Sergeant Meadows denied it was a problem that still existed in Victoria Police.

“This is one [area] that we’re spending a lot more time on to make sure [police] do understand exactly what they need to do if someone comes forward,” he said.

“[That includes the importance] to treat them with respect and dignity, to give them the space to actually tell their story in private.”