Image-based abuse

  • Image-based abuse happens when a nude or sexual image of a person is shared without their consent or permission
  • Image-based abuse can happen to anyone, and like other forms of abuse, it is usually about power and control
  • Image-based abuse is not acceptable and is against the law
  • There are ways to get support if image-based abuse is happening to you or someone you know.

What is image-based abuse?

Image-based abuse happens when a nude or sexual image of a person is taken or shared without that person’s permission. Image-based abuse also includes threatening to take or share a nude or sexual image of another person. Abusers can be intimate partners, ex-partners, family members, friends, people you work with or strangers.

Image-based abuse can also be called ‘revenge pornography’. This is how it may be spoken about in the news or media, but revenge is not always the reason behind image-based abuse. People might use this type of abuse for many different reasons, including for money or to embarrass or control another person.

What does image-based abuse look like?

Image-based abuse can be many different things. Someone may share (or threaten to share) intimate photos or videos of a person without their permission so that others, including the person’s friends and family, will see them. This could be:

  • On the internet, including a website or blog
  • On social media sites, like Facebook or Instagram
  • With a mobile phone, through text message or other message app.

Some abusers will include information to identify the person in the image. They may also encourage others to contact the person and post abusive comments about the image. In some cases, the images of a person are taken or shared in private settings, without the person knowing. Abusers may also try to blackmail or ask for money by threatening to share a person’s intimate images.

Some images may be taken with permission, for example, images shared during an intimate relationship. It becomes abuse when there is no consent for images to be taken or shared, or when the abuser threatens to share the images with others. An abuser can also get personal images by accessing a computer or other digital device, or by using threats to make a person send an image of themselves to the abuser.

Some examples of image-based abuse include:

  • Taking a nude or sexual image of another person without their permission
  • Sharing a nude or sexual image of another person without their permission
  • Posting a nude or sexual image of another person online without their permission
  • Photoshopping a person’s image onto a sexually explicit photograph or video
  • Taking an image of a woman’s breasts or cleavage without her permission (known as ‘downblousing’)
  • Taking an image up a woman’s skirt without her permission (known as ‘upskirting’)
  • Secretly filming consensual sexual activity
  • Filming a sexual assault
  • Sharing images of a sexual assault
  • Threatening to distribute nude or sexual images of another person, even if these images don’t actually exist
  • Accessing another person’s personal computer files and stealing their intimate images.

Some facts about image-based abuse

  • 1 in 5 Australians aged 16 to 49 have experienced some form of image-based abuse in their lifetime
  • Women are more likely than men to experience some forms of image-based abuse
  • Abusers are more likely to be male
  • Image-based abuse is more commonly experienced by:
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
    • People with disability
    • People who identify as LGBTI
    • Young people aged 16 to 29 years
  • People who experience image-based abuse are almost twice as likely as those who haven’t experienced image-based abuse to report experiencing high levels of psychological distress, including symptoms of moderate to severe depression and anxiety, and feeling very fearful for their safety.

You can read more information in the report by RMIT University below.

RMIT report on revenge pornography

Dr Nicola Henry, Dr Anastasia Powell and Dr Asher Flynn have written a report on Australians' experiences of image-based abuse. You can download and read the full report, published by RMIT.

Image-based abuse is not your fault

Image-based abuse is not acceptable. It is a form of abuse and it is against the law. It doesn’t matter whether or not you give permission to share an image of yourself with another person. If that person has shared (or threatened to share) that image with others without your permission, they are to blame. They have betrayed your trust and broken the law. If you have experienced image-based abuse, it is not your fault.

Image-based abuse is against the law

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT), New South Wales (NSW), South Australia (SA) and Victoria have specific laws on image-based abuse. Other Australian states and territories are currently considering introducing image-based abuse laws.

The laws in the ACT, NSW, SA and Victoria mean it is against the law to:

  • Record or capture intimate images without permission
  • Distribute intimate images without permission
  • Threaten to record or distribute intimate images

Each state or territory law is slightly different. Depending on which state the abuse occurs in, abusers can face up to two or three years in prison.

Under Australian Federal law, it is a criminal offence to use a carriage service (such as the internet or a mobile phone) to menace, harass or cause offence. This means that even if the abuse occurred outside the states and territories that have specific image-based abuse laws (ACT, NSW, SA or Victoria), abusers may still be prosecuted under this federal law and could face up to three years in prison. In states or territories without specific laws, it might also be possible to charge abusers for stalking, using surveillance devices, blackmail or indecency offences.

Civil laws relating to anti-discrimination, copyright, breach of confidence and intervention orders can also be used to deal with image-based abuse. It’s important to remember that suing a person can be expensive, can take a long time and the existing laws may not apply in all cases.

Image-based abuse is not acceptable. It is a form of abuse and it is against the law. It doesn’t matter whether or not you give permission to share an image of yourself with another person.

What to do if you or someone you know has experienced image-based abuse

Support is available

If you or someone you know has experienced image-based abuse, you may want to get support. For confidential information, referral and counselling you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

Your doctor or GP can also refer you to a psychologist or counsellor if you would like emotional support.

Getting the image taken down

If you find an intimate image of yourself online, you can contact the website or the social media service and ask to have the images removed. Some sites have an image-removal request form that you can fill out. Facebook uses photo-matching software to detect and prevent the image from emerging again on Facebook after you make a formal complaint. You can also make a request to Google or Bing to have content involving you taken out of internet searches.

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner website provides support and resources on image-based abuse including:

You can also report image-based abuse to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. They can provide assistance and support in relation to:

  • Getting the image removed from social media or an app
  • Getting the image removed from a website
  • Helping in situations where an intimate image has been shared by email or text without your permission
  • Guidance on how to communicate with someone who may have an intimate image of you to request they remove it.

This service is available to anyone who has experienced image-based abuse.

Reporting to the police

Image-based abuse is a crime and can be reported to the police. The ACT, NSW, SA and Victoria all have laws on image-based abuse. Abusers can also be charged under the federal telecommunications law. It might also be possible to charge abusers with stalking, surveillance, blackmail or indecency offences. Image-based abuse involving a minor is a crime in all Australian states and territories, and people can be charged for receiving or distributing child exploitation material (‘child pornography’).

Legal advice

You may like to get some advice from a lawyer about options available to you. Free legal advice is available from Community Legal Centres and Women's Legal Services. You may also be eligible to get legal advice from Legal Aid. If you are under 18, free legal advice is available from the National Children’s Youth Law Centre.