Increased reporting needed to stamp out image-based abuse

Australia leads the world in fighting online image-based abuse (IBA) but there’s no room for complacency warns Griffith University criminologist Dr Jacqueline Drew, who says reports to the Office of eSafety are up 40% this year.

“While Australia’s Office of eSafety launched a world-first image-based portal in 2017 to help victims of IBA, under-reporting is still one an enormous challenge,’’ said Dr Drew, who with Dr Majid Yar from the University of Hull, conducted an analysis of IBA prevention in Australia, England and Wales.

“The precise extent of IBA is difficult to gauge, because of the limited amount of systematic data collection. Even when victims overcome their concerns and fears about reporting, they are often unsure about how to report the abuse.”

The eSafety portal facilitates victim reporting of IBA. It assists victims in removing images from online platforms and provides advice and resources focused on managing its impact. It also advises victims about pursuing criminal charges against perpetrators.

“The online dissemination of nude, intimate and sexualised images of people without their consent, overwhelmingly female, was recognised in the early 2000s and was known as ‘revenge porn,’’ Dr Drew said.

“But more recently the terminology has changed to image-based abuse to acknowledge the broader understanding of the problem, it can include extortion, stolen images and covert recordings.”

She said between October and June 2018, 259 reports of image-based abuse were received by eSafety. Most were female victims (78%) and involved anonymous posting of images (40%), consensually taken images that were on-shared (24%) and sextortion (22%).”

“While reports of IBA are up by 40% this year, it is just the tip of the iceberg.”

In contrast to the Australian reporting system for IBA, the UK has yet to see the establishment of a centralised mechanism with responsibility for receiving and acting upon such abuse.

“The Office of eSafety does fantastic work and has developed protocols and enacts regulation that we hope other countries will learn from. The Office this year reported a 90% IBA removal rate,’’ Dr Drew said.

“Educating young people about the dangers of IBA is essential, particularly the risks of sharing images, even when consensual.

“Once digital images are created and transmitted, you can lose control of how and when they are used. Unfortunately, compliance of social media platforms in removing IBA is variable with some unresponsive. Your images may be distributed and seen in ways you never intended. Removal is more difficult when the platforms are hosted offshore.”

Image-based Abuse, Non Consensual Pornography, Revenge Porn: A Study of Criminalization and Crime Prevention in Australia and England and Wales is published in the International Journal of Cyber Criminology.