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Monday, 12 October 2015
Page: 10691


Mr WATTS (Gellibrand) (10:19): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The bill before the House amends the Commonwealth Criminal Code to introduce three new telecommunications offences.

These offences will prohibit people from sharing private sexual images and films of others without their consent—a practice that is colloquially known as 'revenge porn'.

According to a recent report, funded by the Australian Research Council, one in 10 Australians reported that someone has posted online or sent to others a nude or semi-nude image of them without their consent.

This behaviour is often referred to as revenge porn but the problem is much more complex than people simply wanting to get revenge on ex-partners.

Sexual images and films that are taken within the context of an intimate relationship may be exploited for a variety of reasons.

During a relationship, a perpetrator might use sexual images or films as a tool to control their partner—the threat of it being sent to others might be enough to keep someone in an abusive relationship or control their behaviour within that relationship.

While revenge porn can affect both sexes, in the majority of cases women are the victims.

Revenge porn is the most extreme example of how some men are using new technologies to exercise power and control over the women in their lives.

It is an increasingly common manifestation of family violence.

The distribution of private sexual images without consent can take many forms.

These images can be sent to people's friends, colleagues or family, causing serious and ongoing harm to their career, reputation and mental health.

Sometimes they are uploaded onto websites dedicated to revenge porn that contain hundreds of sexual images of women that have been uploaded without their consent—a violation recently experienced by hundreds of women in South Australia who had their private images shared online without their consent earlier this year.

Victims' contact details can also be published on these websites, incentivising and leading to victims being further harassed with sexual and abusive messages from strangers that they have never encountered.

It is easy to see how women who have been subjected to revenge porn suffer from depression and anxiety and that some have even committed suicide after falling victim to this form of abuse.

The humiliation from having sexual images or films shared publically can prevent people from reporting rape or abuse or from seeking the help that they need to recover from sexual abuse.

In their submission on the exposure draft of this bill, Safe Steps, Victoria's Crisis Response Centre for victims of family violence, shared a story of one of their clients in this regard.

A woman was drugged and, while unconscious, was filmed engaging in sexual acts.

The film was uploaded to YouTube and other porn sharing websites without her consent.

While the woman sought assistance from Safe Steps, she did not choose to come into their accommodation and wanted to remain anonymous.

Safe Steps believed that the shame and humiliation that this woman suffered and felt from being subjected to that abuse, and from having those images more widely shared, prevented her from seeking the assistance that she needed.

A recent study conducted by Dr Anastasia Powell and Dr Nicola Henry, funded by the Australian Research Council, looked at the extent, nature and impacts of digital harassment and abuse.

Dr Powell and Dr Henry interviewed 30 experts across law enforcement and other agencies and uncovered disturbing accounts of image-based sexual exploitation of adult women.

In these interviews, police describe the severe and ongoing psychological harm experienced by victims. In one interview a police member said:

The harm is substantial and severe ... It's ongoing forever because if that's on the internet then it will just pop up all the time. You can't erase it—once it's on the internet it's there forever.

In another interview, a sexual offences investigator likened the harm of revenge porn to the harm of a sexual assault itself—they both represent an invasive, sexually-based violation and a loss of control. The investigator said:

They feel that they've got no control then of when is it going to be posted next or who has seen it, and that embarrassment too.

A lot of them worry about when they go for jobs, is it going to be seen?

It's posted on Facebook and ends up on the Internet ... it's quite debilitating for a victim to be honest.

The range of feelings that they're feeling is not that far different from a victim of a contact sexual assault.

They both have that feeling of being violated.

Both the actual and threatened distribution of these images without consent is a violation of a person's autonomy, of a person's control over their own body.

It should be seen as a form of sexual assault.

In public discussion of this issue there is a temptation to blame the victims, to criticise women for their decision to take photos of themselves or to allow them to be taken.

But we should avoid this. When we scratch the surface of this argument, it is the same as telling a woman who was raped that she was 'asking for it' when she decided to wear a short skirt or go out at night. It is 21st century victim blaming.

In the digital era, relationships are increasingly taking place online. We all have a digital plane to our existence these days, and with that comes new ways that technology can be used by people in healthy relationships to create intimacy.

There is nothing wrong with this.

Telling women to police their own behaviour, implying that it is their fault if they get violated by a person without their consent, is wrong.

Telling women that they should lock themselves up and cover their bodies to avoid getting raped is wrong.

Telling a woman that it was her fault that she was raped or sexually assaulted is wrong.

It is never a victim's fault when they are violated without their consent or beyond their control.

There has already been some action taken by state jurisdictions to create criminal offences dealing with revenge porn.

In 2013, South Australia made distributing an 'invasive image' without consent a criminal offence under its Summary Offences Act 1953.

In 2014, Victoria made it a criminal offence to maliciously distribute, or threaten to distribute, 'intimate' images without consent under their Summary Offences Act 1966.

Perpetrators face a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment for distribution and one-year imprisonment for threat of distribution in this jurisdiction.

In other Australian jurisdictions, broader offences exist in relation to stalking, blackmail, voyeurism and indecency.

However, these offences are too broad in scope to directly target revenge porn.

They are not being used by law enforcement agencies or the courts to stamp out the prevalence of revenge porn.

Most importantly, they fail to send a clear message to the broader community that the sharing of private sexual images without the subject's consent is not just wrong but also is prohibited by law.

In the absence of specific criminal legislation at the state, territory and federal levels, the only other legal avenues for victims are to be found in the civil law.

These laws are not suited to dealing with revenge porn and are not serving as an effective deterrent.

Globally, we are seeing legislators enact laws against revenge porn in the United Kingdom, several US states, Canada, Israel, Brazil and the Philippines.

Australia needs to act too.

The purpose of this legislation is to send a clear message that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated in Australia.

We believe that the seriousness of the harm caused by revenge porn means that there should be a specific federal offence providing blanket protection to individuals across the country.

The bill contains three new offences that will prescribe appropriate penalties for persons involved in revenge porn.

The bill creates an offence for a person to share sexual images and films of a person without their consent where it will cause them distress or harm.

The bill defines the images and films that are covered by these offences broadly. The offences are inclusive of a range of cultural understandings, sexualities and gender identities.

We want these offences to cover the kind of sexual exploitation that was experienced by a Muslim woman who sought assistance from family violence services in Victoria. Photographs of her in her bra and without her hijab were shared without her consent on the perpetrator's Facebook account.

The photos were accessible by her children and other family members.

The woman and her family said that they felt ashamed and humiliated, and the act was clearly done in an attempt to exert control and influence over the woman.

The bill will ensure that different cultural contexts are taken into account when determining whether an offence has been committed.

The bill also creates an offence for a person to make a threat to another person to share private sexual images or films that they are depicted in, or another person that they care about is depicted in.

This offence will cover situations where people threaten to share private sexual material to coerce people in abusive relationships. As I said earlier, many family violence service providers cite the prevalence of revenge porn as being increasingly common for individuals seeking their support services today.

The penalty for these offences will be up to three years imprisonment We believe that this reflects the seriousness and the very serious impacts that this crime has on the victims.

The bill also creates an offence for a person to engage in those offences for the purpose of obtaining a benefit.

The penalty for this offence will be five years imprisonment. The trading in revenge porn for commercial benefit increases demand for this kind of material and can be consequentially expected to increase its prevalence. It should be regarded an aggravated offence and attract a higher penalty.

The specific criminal offences targeting this behaviour, along with appropriately harsh penalties, send a clear message to the Australian community that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated in Australia. I encourage all members of this House to support this bill. I note and appreciate the comments of support that have been made by those on the other side of the House with regard to dealing with this issue and I thank members for being in the chamber to show their support. I commend the bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Craig Kelly ): Is the motion seconded?

Ms Butler: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

Debate adjourned.