It’s not easy to work out what to do when someone has shared an intimate, nude or sexual image of you without your consent. This ‘quick guide’ shows you how to connect with support services, request the removal of images and some of the legal options open to you under Australian law.
1. What is image-based abuse?
For many lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people, the internet can be an incredible tool for connection and support.
Image-based abuse (IBA) occurs when intimate, nude or sexual images are distributed without the consent of those pictured. This includes real, altered (i.e. Photoshopped) and drawn pictures and videos.
While most image-based abuse is about the sharing of images without consent, it can also include the threat of an image being shared.
Image-based abuse is also commonly referred to as ‘revenge porn’, ‘non-consensual sharing of intimate images’, or ‘intimate image abuse’. ‘Revenge porn’ is the term most commonly used in the media, but in many cases IBA is not about ‘revenge’, nor is it restricted to ‘porn’. IBA can occur for a range of motives and can include many kinds of images and video.
Examples of image-based abuse include:
- Your current or ex-partner sharing an intimate image on social media without your consent.
- A work colleague Photoshopping an image of you with an explicit image and sharing it broadly via email.
- A stranger taking an intimate image without your consent, also known as ‘up-skirting’ or ‘down-blousing’ or ‘creepshots’, and sharing it on a website or porn site.
If you have experienced image-based abuse, you are not alone. Around 20% of Australians have experienced IBA.^ IBA impacts people regardless of their age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, education or bank balance.
Although women aged 18-24 are more likely to be targets (24%), LGBTI people also experience a high level of image-based abuse (19%).
2. What are the impacts of image-based abuse?
For every person who has been a target of image-based abuse, the experience will be different.
Depending on your precise situation, you might be feeling annoyed, angry, humiliated, embarrassed, overwhelmed, depressed or downright devastated. It can be terrifying to discover that an image of you has been shared without your consent. Even more distressing can be the knowledge that the distribution of this image may now be out of your control, that it might be viewed by friends or family, especially if you are not out, or that it could form part of your lasting digital footprint.
The impacts of IBA can be far reaching. People who have been targets of IBA report that it has affected their self-esteem, mental health and physical wellbeing, and that it can impact on relationships with friends, family and intimate partners. Victims of IBA also describe negative effects on their school work, study and performance at work.
If the person experiencing image-based abuse is not out, the fear of the shared image revealing their gender or sexual identity can cause additional stress or anxiety. The reasons for an image or video being shared can also be due to homophobia or transphobia and the image-based abuse can cause further discrimination, bullying or ridicule.
Everybody has the right to live without online abuse or the threat of abuse.
As we increasingly live our lives online, the threat of image-based abuse has increased. It is also relatively common for LGBTI people to share intimate images online. Some people hold outdated attitudes that blame victims of IBA, when the blame should fall squarely upon the perpetrators. These views are unhelpful and can add stress to an already difficult situation. While a victim of IBA may have consented to share an image with one person, or to have one taken, this does not mean they consented to share it with anyone else. Every instance of IBA is different, but what unites people who have experienced IBA is that images or videos of them have been shared without their consent.
If you have been a target of IBA, the most important thing to remember is that it is not your fault and you are not alone. There are some concrete things you can do to take action, access support and understand your legal options. If you have been affected by image-based abuse and would like emotional support, please contact one of the counselling and support services listed in this guide.
3. What do you do if an intimate image of you has been shared without your consent
Ensure immediate safety:
- Make sure that you are in a safe place.
- If you are at risk of immediate harm call Triple Zero (000) .
- If you are experiencing image-based abuse as part of an abusive relationship, contact your local police or a social worker.
If you are in an abusive relationship or have experienced domestic violence
While we understand the urgency to get damaging content down, if you are in an abusive or volatile relationship, or the perpetrator is potentially violent, you may want to speak to police, your lawyer or a support service to ensure you have a safety plan in place before you make a take-down request. This is because the perpetrator may react violently once the image or video is removed or the account is deleted. This is particularly important when the person posting the abuse is also abusive to you or others offline. When you contact your local police, you can ask to speak to a Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer.
If image-based abuse is being used to threaten, blackmail or control you or someone else, contact police or seek support from the services listed below before you remove an image. This is known as sextortion and may have legal consequences. If you are unsure if this is sextortion you can also make a report to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and we can help direct you to appropriate services.
Support and counselling
There are a number of support and counselling services to help deal with the emotional effects of imagebased abuse. Some services such as Q-Life and Minus18 are designed to support the LGBTI community. When image-based abuse is due to homophobia or transphobia, accessing a local support group or online space for LGBTI people can be a great way to find support and connect with your community. LGBTI people are never alone, and linking in with like-minded people can provide much needed support.
All ages. Counselling for anyone affected by sexual assault or domestic and family violence (including family members). Open 24 hours daily.
16-25 year olds. All issues. Online resources only (no telephone/online chat support).
All ages. Counselling and referral for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and/or intersex. Open 3pm-12am in your state, every day.
Remember, if you, or a friend, has experienced image-based abuse, you are not alone. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner is here to help. You can find more information on available support services.
Friends and family
Friends and family can be a great support, but can also add an additional layer of complexity if the person affected isn’t out to them. It’s important to remember that image-based abuse can affect anyone, and just because someone is LGBTI this does not mean they are in any way to blame for the abuse.
Friends and family have a very important role to play in helping victims of image-based abuse. Research shows that victims often turn to friends and family first, and that reassurance and support go a long way to helping victims handle the situation. Friends and family who offer unconditional support, focus on the victim’s experience, and do not blame the victim, are the most helpful. A guide for friends and family is available here.
Victims of image-based abuse often want to have the images and videos taken down, or removed, immediately. This is a perfectly natural response. You will find more information on how to remove images below. But it is important to preserve evidence first.
If you have been the victim of image-based abuse you may be able to take legal action. To do so, it is helpful to collect evidence before the content is taken down. Evidence can help you show police and the courts exactly what happened.
Evidence can also be useful if you plan to report the abuse or threatening behaviour to the site or social media service it was posted on. Showing evidence of the image-based abuse can help to have the person who shared the image or video blocked from that service. It may also help to prevent your image from being shared again in the future.
For more information on how to collect and preserve evidence of image-based abuse, please see this simple guide.
4. How can I get an image or video of me that has been shared without my consent taken down?
There are some key steps you can take to have your images or video removed. These include reporting the material to a social media service or website to have it taken down, making a report to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and contacting the person who posted your image.
1. Report an image to the website or social media service it is posted on
Most major websites and social media services have policies that prohibit the posting or sharing of intimate images without consent. They also provide specific instructions for reporting and take down.
The image-based abuse portal has a list of popular sites that have these instructions. The portal also provides advice about what you can do if your image is posted on an unlisted website or service. These can include websites that promote abuse (also known as ‘revenge porn’ sites). You can also learn how to block your images from search results in Google and Microsoft Bing.
For more information see this guide on useful links for removing images.
2. Report an image to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner
You can make a report to the Office if you are a resident of Australia and:
- You are worried about contacting a website or social media service yourself
- You need help to contact a service or website
- You have tried, but the image is still online
Our expert team are ready to work with you and find the best way to help.
3. Contact the person with your image
An initial course of action could be to ask the person who has shared your image to remove or delete the image. You can let them know they do not have consent to share or post your image.
An example of the kind of message you could send is provided here.
However, if you fear for your safety, or are experiencing image-based abuse as part of an abusive relationship, it is best to try other options.
5. What are my legal options?
If someone has shared nude, sexual or intimate images of you, or is threatening to do so, there may be laws to protect you.
The Federal Government is looking at ways to strengthen laws to better protect Australians against image-based abuse.
Engaging help from local police
How local police can assist depends on the laws which apply within your state or territory, and more general laws, including federal laws, which may help with image-based abuse. Local police can also apply for a protection order to protect you from a violent or abusive partner or person, if you need this. You can also ask to speak with a Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer when you contact your local police.
At present, laws vary state by state and can be complex, even for legal experts. The following laws may assist in instances of image-based abuse:
- Indecent images
- Child sexual exploitation
- Threats of violence
- The use of a carriage service provider to harass, menace or cause offence
The Office’s image-based abuse portal provides an Australia-wide overview of relevant legislation as a guide, but it is important to note that law is constantly evolving and changing in this area. You can find more information on getting help from police and legal assistance.
Understanding the differences between civil cases, where the victim sues the alleged perpetrator, and criminal prosecutions, might also help you to determine whether you should go to the police. Learn more about what you can expect from a civil or criminal case.
If you report image-based abuse to police you will need to take detailed information about what has happened to help in any investigations. A simple guide about how to collect evidence can be found here.
A lawyer or legal service can help by discussing your legal options and the legislation which applies in your state or territory, including how to apply for a Protection Order if you need one. Your lawyer can also speak to the police with you, if required. Lawyers can advise whether criminal or civil charges could be pursued against the person who shared an image of you without your consent. Advice on where to get legal advice, including pro bono legal assistance, can be found here.
6. Personal stories
Growing up in regional Victoria, I didn’t know any openly gay guys in my town. It was pretty isolating. Online spaces were actually the only place I could meet other gay guys. Gay apps gave me the chance to talk to other guys and meet them. I had always assumed I’d be a lonely gay kid and never have any friends, so when I was talking to other people online it made me feel connected, even though they were usually ages away. It wasn’t until after I’d met other gay guys that I realised how isolated and lonely I was. Without those apps, I might still be isolated, and probably incredibly depressed.
There were some people who I’d message every single day – the fact they were from all over the world only made our connection stronger. We could talk about the most intense, intimate things, and share our deepest secrets because we knew we’d likely never meet. Typing out your feelings and hitting enter is WAY easier than saying them face to face. These people were my best friends at the time, and they completely transformed my life for the better.
Not all the apps were dating apps, but in the ones that were I found it was pretty common to trade photos with other guys. Sometimes if the conversation went a particular way, I’d feel comfortable sharing some more personal photos, including nude ones.
One day a friend sent me a link to a page online that had collected my photos and posted them in a gallery. It made my stomach drop. At first I was mortified and really embarrassed. I still don’t know who shared my photos and from which app.
I’d always been really careful never to include my face in any photos where I was naked, but this person had also posted other photos of me beside them, where I was clothed and my face was visible. Side by side it made it very obvious who the naked-mirror- cropped-at-the-neck photos were of – and it was clear they were taken in the same room.
When it happened, I was more worried about those images being used to link back to me being gay, and that I would cop flack for my sexuality.
My friend was so amazing though and was angry for me. I was sort of stuck in this mindset of wanting to ignore it and hope it’d just go away. I remember being really overwhelmed, and feeling as if bringing any attention to it would only make things worse.
I felt like crap, and I remember wondering how many other people had come across the images of me, and being scared about what they would think. I think for gay guys in particular, even for guys who are pretty confident in their sexuality, there’s so much shame in a naked photo being shown to a wider audience. When you’re gay, you worry about being labelled ‘that gay guy’ who is also a ‘pervert’. Or you worry about being seen as a loser who falls for other people’s tricks.
What Mitch wants others to know
Having my friend’s support helped. We both reported the image to the website and it was taken down in a couple of days. Knowing who to reach out to in this situation helped a lot, and I’m incredibly grateful for that support. Looking back, I think my fear was really linked to homophobia, and that’s a really big part of what needs to change. I imagine in the same way that a girl being slut-shamed is linked to sexism.
I still use dating apps, but I make sure I never include my face in any picture I send anyone – it means that even if someone downloaded pictures of me, I could easily say, ‘nah that’s not me, it’s a fake.’ If you do include a head shot alongside naked pictures, ensure that they don’t have the same background or furnishings in the shot. My friend gave me this advice and it has given me back my confidence.
The whole thing was a really full on experience but it is possible to come out the other side and still have fun online.
*Mitch’s story combines experiences and emotions of a number of individuals in this situation.
It all started with someone messaging me on Grindr.
It was a completely normal chat – we talked for a little bit before exchanging our naked photos – that’s the way things work on Grindr.
We also exchanged numbers and Snapchats after talking for a few more days in which we exchanged more photos. I was completely ready to meet up with this person until he started saying that he wanted to get his friend involved and record it. That was the first alarm bell. He also mentioned stuff that sounded really violent — like he wanted to see me cry and wanted to make it painful and that he enjoyed hurting people. At this stage, I was no longer interested, and blocked him on Snapchat and Grindr without telling him.
That’s when it turned really nasty. After he realised he had been blocked, he started calling my phone constantly and leaving abusive voice messages saying that if I didn’t do anything with him he would make sure that everyone I knew saw my naked photos. He said he had screenshotted these without my knowledge – so much for self-destructing images on Snapchat!
I didn’t know what to do. The calls kept coming so I blocked his phone number on my phone as well. Then he took it to a whole new level by making a new Grindr account, which he used to re-send my photos to me, making sure I knew that he had them, and threatening that he was still planning to send them to everyone I knew. I didn’t know what to do by this point – every time I tried to do something to protect myself, he seemed to find a way back to me and make it even worse. And I had never even met this guy!
By this point, I felt like I had no other choice but to do what he asked me to do: I didn’t want everyone to see my photos, and so I did what he asked.
What Luca wants others to know
I just want anyone who might be going through this to know that you should never feel like you have no other choice. Talk to somebody while it’s happening, they may be able to help you.
If I had talked with someone sooner, I might have been able to get professional help – counselling or legal advice. And all of this would have told me what I know now – that there were other options, such as contacting police or a support service. I was just really unlucky. After all, heaps of people share images like this all the time on Grindr, and not all of them have horror stories like mine.
*Luca’s story combines experiences and emotions of a number of individuals in this situation.
I had been with my partner for two years before I discovered she was cheating. We argued a lot and eventually split up. It was tough because we worked in the same industry. Shortly after our break up, I realised people were acting strangely around me, and I asked a friend what was going on. She showed me a group chat between my co-workers and friends. My ex had shared nude photos of me on it. I was unbelievably angry. First she had cheated on me, and now this!
What’s more, because my ex and I worked in the same industry, and I needed to pay my rent, I had to work alongside people who had seen my images, and hadn’t tried to help. So it wasn’t just my ex who had betrayed me. And it was just so embarrassing. Those images weren’t ever meant to be seen by anyone except my ex.
I confronted my ex and she said she had been upset that we broke up, so had wanted to punish me. She felt bad, but didn’t think it was a big deal. She said that as I had sent her the images, they were hers and she could do what she wanted with them. Even though this happened ages ago, I still can’t believe she did it.
I’ve never told my family what happened. I really felt like an idiot. I was an intelligent woman in my 30s who had managed to get myself into this bloody awful situation.
For a while, I couldn’t control my anger and stress about it. I thought I would explode, or implode. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone, anywhere. Eventually, the isolation got too much and I knew I needed help. I called Lifeline to talk it through. I eventually went to my GP and got referred to a good psychologist. She helped me reconnect with people I could trust, and find a different job.
What Jess wants others to know
There is never an excuse for sharing someone’s personal photos. While I was so upset at the start, and I still am, I also think I dodged a bullet by not being with my ex any more. This whole thing showed me her true colours.
At the start, I really did blame myself and question myself. So, if that’s how you feel, know it’s a completely normal part of having something like this happen to you.
It is possible to put the feelings of shame behind you. I am now at the point where I refuse to feel shame. I have finally moved on. I have great friends who know what happened and support me.
I want people to know that they can be strong and survive. Other people will forget, even if you don’t. It is the person who sent the photo, and those who looked at it, that have the problem.
*Jess’s story combines experiences and emotions of a number of individuals in this situation.
7. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner has been given the primary role by the Federal Government in helping to support victims of image-based abuse. The Office’s image-based abuse portal encourages victims to access a range of resources and assistance and to help take steps to stand up to abuse and take control.
The office provides:
- Information and advice, including when to approach Police, options for legal assistance, and relevant laws in Australia.
- Reporting options—how to report image-based abuse to popular social media sites, as well as how to report an image to the Office, and what to expect. The Office can also advise about options to request image take down, based on the specific details of a report.
- For those who may be in need of legal advice or counselling support services, the portal has links to set victims on the right pathways to emotional support and justice.
- Resources, including information and contacts, as well as case studies and videos about different types of image-based abuse from people who have experienced it.
^Henry, Nicola & Powell, Anastasia & Flynn, Asher & Gendered Violence and Abuse Research Alliance & RMIT University. Centre for Global Research et al. (2017). Not just ‘revenge pornography’: Australians’ experiences of image-based abuse: a summary report. RMIT University, Melbourne.