What is Image Based Sexual Abuse?

Image based sexual abuse is also known as ‘cyber sexual assault’, ‘revenge porn’ or ‘non-consensual pornography’. The former term is preferred as the latter terms are misleading.

What is pornography?

‘Porn’ is the portrayal of sexual subject matter and the people participating have CONSENTED (‘hemi talem yes’) for the content to be distributed publicly. They are generally paid sex workers in a professional setting.

Image based sexual abuse is NOT pornography

On the other hand, image based sexual abuse is when a person’s private images or videos have been distributed WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT (‘hemi talem no’) and often with the intent of causing distress or embarrassment to them. In Vanuatu, the victims are mostly young women and girls and there have been reports of attempted suicide.

Why do people participate in image based sexual abuse?

Sometimes these incidents occur because of a lack of information and support regarding the dangers and consequences of sharing explicit images, particularly in the era of dating with new technology.

But sometimes it is an intimate partner who possesses explicit material to blackmail the victim into performing other sex acts, to extort money, to coerce them into continuing the relationship, to punish them for ending the relationship, to cause distress and to even silence victims of rape by documenting the assault.

Even if the explicit material has been made with the knowledge and consent of the person, that does not mean they have given permission for the material to be distributed.

Victims who make intimate images available to a partner have trusted that person with sensitive information. If a patient gives sensitive health information to doctors, they expect the doctor to keep the information confidential. This is no different to a person sharing private sexual information with an intimate partner – they also expect their information to be protected as it’s PRIVATE and confidential.

Unfortunately when a relationship ends some individuals may maliciously choose to use intimate images that they have of their ex-partner against them as a means of ‘revenge’. Hence the name ‘revenge porn.’ This can have devastating effects for the victim who most likely only intended for the content to be seen by the recipient only.

What is the harm?

When intimate images or videos are shared with others and even the public, that person is then not in control of who sees this picture of themselves, inducing feelings of humiliation and fear. They may have been reassured that their information would be kept safe and the violation of trust has the potential to negatively impact the victim psychologically and jeopardise future relationships.

While image based sexual abuse affects both male and female individuals, the evidence shows that the majority of victims are female, and that female victims often face more serious consequences as a result of victimization including being threatened with sexual assault, stalked, harassed, fired from jobs, and forced to change schools. Some victims have committed suicide.

What can you do if you are a victim?

  • Find YOUR PEOPLE – the ones who won’t judge you and who will support you.
  • Collect evidence, including taking screenshots and copy and URL
  • Contact the police and report the incident. Cyber crime laws are currently being drafted in Vanuatu, but you may be able to file a case under the Penal Code.
  • If the images have been posted on a social media forum, the administrator has a responsibility to remove them. If he/she doesn’t – report them to the police as well.
  • Check if the image has been posted in other places. You can do this by searching for your name online and do a reverse image search.
  • Contact the social media platform or website administrator directly and report that the image was distributed without consent
  • Microsoft and Google both offer options to remove revenge porn from appearing on search engine results.

REMEMBER – if intimate images of you have been shared online without your consent, YOU ARE THE VICTIM. As long as you are at the age of sexual consent (16), what you do in your private life is NO ONE ELSE’S BUSINESS! No one should be given access to your private life without your permission and if someone violates your privacy, THEY ARE A PERPATRATOR OF IMAGE BASED SEXUAL ABUSE!

This article was originally published in the December edition of the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Life and Style magazine.