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According to Merit?: Revenge porn and the law

According to Merit?: Revenge porn and the law

By Amy Johnstone and Sophie Brown

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Snapshot
  • Targets and KPIs used as part of other business strategies need to include targets for diversity.
  • Progress against diversity targets needs to be reviewed together with other business targets, and those responsible need to be accountable.
  • Targets need to be public and transparent.

While sending sexy pictures has become common in online dating, the internet, social media and smart phones have made it easier to distribute such material without the subject’s consent. This non-consensual distribution of private sexual material is known as revenge porn.

The experience of not-for-profit organisations working in this area suggests that women are disproportionately affected by revenge porn and that it often occurs in the context of violent relationships or a relationship breakdown. However, it has only recently been understood as a form of family violence and sexual assault and the legal response has lagged.

In November 2015 the issue of revenge porn was referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee for inquiry and report. Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) made a submission and gave evidence at the public hearing in February 2016.

Although Victoria now has criminal offences specifically tailored to revenge porn, VWL supports the creation of specific offences at the federal level to deal with the issue. It believes that this would better protect women from this emerging form of intimate partner violence and hold perpetrators to account for their violent actions in the virtual space.

VWL believes that sharing private sexual images without the consent of the subject is a form of sexual violence. As such, the practice itself, rather than the outcome, should be the focus of the offence. That is, a federal offence should not require the victim to establish harm, although this would obviously be a factor to be taken into account when sentencing the perpetrator.

VWL also hopes that any legislative change will be part of a broader policy approach, including funding of appropriate community and corporate programs focused on building respectful relationships throughout Australian communities.

The committee’s report was released at the end of February 2016 and it directly addresses some of the key concerns raised in the VWL submission and evidence. In particular, it has recommended that the federal government create criminal offences for knowingly or recklessly recording or sharing intimate images without consent and for threatening to do so.

VWL will continue to monitor this issue. Following the committee’s recommendations, VWL anticipates effective law reform will reduce the incidence of this form of sexual violence. In addition, VWL looks forward to an increased focus on the rights and consequences for the parties involved alongside an improved community awareness of why such conduct is unacceptable in contemporary Australia. n

Amy Johnstone and Sophie Brown are members of the Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) Law Reform Committee.


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