Australia Urged to Show Leadership On Revenge Porn

09/09/2015 5:12 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Man taking picture of his girlfriend in the bedroom

CANBERRA -- The Federal Government is being urged to support a push to outlaw the sharing of sexually explicit material without consent and send a clear message that revenge porn is unacceptable.

In an interview with The Huffington Post Australia, Labor backbenchers Tim Watts and Terri Butler said the matter was a “question of leadership” and the private members bill they are preparing would make it clear that revenge porn is “very wrong”.

They are about to present an exposure draft of legislation that would add a new offence of "unsolicited sharing of private intimate images" to the criminal code.

Revenge porn is the sharing of sexually explicit material without consent. Offenders, both in ongoing or broken relationships, share 'revenge porn' with intent to intimidate or humiliate the other party.

It's at the extreme end of the many types of harassment and intimidation that many women -- and some men -- receive through technology, including on smart phones and social media.

“This is an issue that really should transcend party political lines, because it is actually about improving gender relations and dealing with gender inequality," Butler told HuffPost Australia.

The duo have already been supported by one Government MP, the member for Dobell, Karen McNamara, and they are hoping for more.

“We are interested in making sure that our provision strikes the right balance, sends the right message and actually makes it really clear that the act of, without someone’s consent, distributing images or recordings of them that are intimate, is of itself something that is very wrong,” Butler said.

“It is the question of leadership on this issue. We think that it is important that people with a public profile speak out on this issue.”

Victoria is the only Australian jurisdiction to specifically outlaw revenge porn, while countries such as Japan, Israel and Canada criminalised it last year.

There are existing federal telecommunication laws which tackle threatening behaviour, but Watts said Federal Police were disinclined to use them to investigate revenge porn.

“We want to ensure there is nation-wide blanket protection against this sort of behaviour, for all women, regardless of where they live,” Watts told HuffPost Australia.

Butler wanted to put the issue on the radar of older politicians, who may have grown up with film cameras.

“I think just the availability of images and recordings is increasing,” Butler said.

“Holding someone to ransom because you have got certain images, or certain recordings of them I think it is one of those clear examples of an incident of someone trying to abuse their power, abuse the control that they can exercise.”

Watt said revenge porn was not a technology problem.

“This is still at its core an issue about men taking responsibility for their behaviour,” he said. “Parliament should send a clear message that this is not acceptable.”

It’s not known how many people are affected by revenge porn, as many of those affected are believed to be silent victims.

Sexting may be common in the days of the ubiquitous camera phone, but Watts said revenge porn was extreme behaviour.

“The taking of these pictures is certainly a common practice in the relationships of Australians in their twenties," he said.

In a high-profile case three months ago more than 500 Australian women and girls had explicit photos exponsed on a dedicated U.S. revenge porn website.

“It really is one of the most horrific manifestations of this issue,” Watts said.

But it is not just websites; perpetrators keep photos and threaten to send them to relatives and friends.

“It is used as a mechanism of control in a relationship and it is just utterly unacceptable,” Watts said.

Butler said it was important for victims to realise that revenge porn wasn't their fault.

"You have not done anything wrong," she said. “Someone is doing this to you to exercise control over you and that is wrong.”

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