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Enhancing Online Safety (Non-consensual Sharing of Intimate Images)

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 14 Feb 2018

I rise to speak to the Enhancing Online Safety (Non-consensual Sharing of Intimate Images) Bill 2017. As noted earlier today by my colleague Senator Jordon Steele-John, the Australian Greens welcome and support this bill because we support action to protect those who experience or may experience the abuse, threats, extortion or other harm caused by the non-consensual sharing of their intimate images or threats to share such images. I'm heartened that the government has listened to the voices in this chamber and across Australia who have been calling for a long time for legislation that deals with non-consensual sharing of images.

While this bill is a welcome step in protecting people from the non-consensual sharing of images, the Greens consider that this bill has been brought on for debate far too quickly. Yes, we need legislation, but it would have been much better for this legislation to have had the opportunity to go through the standard Senate process of a committee inquiry, because then this bill would, I am certain, have been improved from what it is today. We have some amendments that we're going to be moving to this bill that will improve it, but I'm certain that if we'd had the chance to have the scrutiny of a Senate inquiry process we would have ended up with much better legislation. I think it's disappointing the government has brought this bill on before it is ready.

In-depth research conducted by RMIT University found the issue of non-consensual sharing of images affects a wide cross-section of the community. The key findings of the research demonstrate the extent of the problem and why we must address it. One in five Australians have experienced image based abuse. Victims of image based abuse experience high levels of psychological distress. Women and men are equally likely to report being a victim. Perpetrators of image based abuse are most likely to be male and known to the victim. Men and young adults are more likely to voluntarily share a nude or sexual image of themselves. Women are more likely than men to fear for their safety due to image based abuse. Abuse risk is higher for those who share sexual selfies, but they aren't the only victims. One in two Australians with a disability report being a victim of image based abuse. Let that sink in: one in two Australians with a disability. One in two Indigenous Australians report image based abuse and victimisation. Image based abuse and victimisation is higher for lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians. Young people aged 16 to 29 years are also at high risk of image based abuse. Critically, given the impact of this, it is heartening to know that four out of five Australians agree that it should be a crime to share sexual or nude images without permission.

It's worth noting that men make up the majority of perpetrators when it comes to non-consensual sharing of intimate images, and that women are more likely than men to be victimised by an intimate partner or ex-partner. It's in this context that I am talking tonight, as the Greens spokesperson for women. Importantly, the research showed that those most likely to be targeted by non-consensual sharing of their intimate images are those in our community who are likely to be dealing with discrimination, prejudice and injustice, including disabled people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

On top of this the research found that the victims of non-consensual images may have also experienced domestic or family violence, sexual violence, stalking, sexual harassment and other forms of interpersonal violence. The psychological impact of this abuse can be significant, and negative implications can affect their reputation, family, employment, social relationships and even personal safety. And, as noted by the chief investigator of the RMIT University research project, Dr Nicola Henry, this isn't just about revenge porn. Images are being used to control, abuse and humiliate people in ways that go well beyond a relationship-gone-sour scenario.

This research, undertaken by RMIT, goes to the heart of why this bill is so important. Statistically, we know that the most dangerous place for a woman is in her home. Women are more likely to be killed by their current or former male partner than by any other cause. And we know from the #MeToo movement and the ongoing campaigns for women's rights that women across the world—on the streets and in their workplaces; young and old—face daily sexual harassment, abuse and violence. And so in a broader cultural context of disrespect and harassment, the non-consensual sharing of intimate images is a particularly targeted, insidious and damaging form of abuse. Women are more likely to experience this form of abuse at the hands of a partner or ex-partner, and this exemplifies a particularly horrifying version of controlling and humiliating behaviour.

I want to share a case study with you, an example of the harm that can be caused by the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. It is a case of two women in a regional town whose intimate images and videos were posted without consent to a pornographic image board. The victims identified the same man as responsible for disseminating the intimate images. The man had also targeted other women in the town. He had posted their images to the same link, which identified the town and, in some of the cases, the names and the workplaces of the victims. Just imagine being the subject of that harassment.

The civil penalties that this legislation proposes would provide a range of options to deal with a perpetrator's behaviour including issuing a warning; issuing a removal notice, requiring the perpetrator to remove the images; issuing an infringement; and preventing the further publication or dissemination of images through an enforcement mechanism, such as an undertaking or a court injunction. So the Greens are welcoming action on this important issue that, as the research indicates, affects many people from many demographics. However, as my colleague Senator Steele-John has indicated, we are very concerned about the implications of this proposed civil penalties regime for people who are under 18. For that reason, we're going to be moving an amendment about this issue, for which we are seeking the Senate's consideration of support.

In conclusion, I'm pleased that the government has brought on this legislation. It could be better legislation. It would have benefited from having gone through a thorough Senate inquiry process, but it is legislation that is absolutely worth supporting. I am pleased to be able to join Senator Steele-John in saying that the Greens will be supporting this important legislation.

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