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

I really wish we didn’t need this legislation, the Enhancing Online Safety (Non-consensual Sharing of Intimate Images) Bill 2018. I wish it wasn’t necessary. I wish everyone using devices would choose not to use the internet to share intimate images and videos. I wish people didn’t choose to photoshop other people’s faces onto pornographic material. I encourage everyone who’s using a device to think very seriously about how they use that device, irrespective of their age, given that much of the material can and will be there forever. This is something people need to think seriously about before they hit ‘send’ or ‘post’. I hope and encourage both individuals and the police to use the laws that we’re enacting through this legislation.

According to the Deloitte Mobile Consumer Survey, 88 per cent of Australians own a smartphone. The internet is a vital tool for education, research, entertainment and social interaction. But the internet is also being used for the wrong purposes, and it leads to very tragic circumstances. One of those wrong purposes is the non-consensual sharing of intimate images of other people. Creating a safer online world involves various platforms. Everyone who uses the internet is responsible in this space—the industry itself, schools, parents, children, support agencies and government. We need to do, as this government is, everything we can to ensure that Australians are safe in their online activities, as much as is possible.

As members of this House know, for many years I’ve delivered cybersafety presentations to schools, the community and businesses. I can tell this House from firsthand experience that image based abuse in its various forms is rife. And I can tell you that it ruins lives, which is why the legislation before the House is so necessary. Around 20 per cent of Australians have been victims of image based abuse, regardless of their age, their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their education or, indeed, their bank balance. There are young people in my electorate and elsewhere in Australia who have actually attempted suicide after someone they thought they could trust with those very personal, intimate images, chose to share them without their consent. The under-18 age group caught in this space are covered by our child pornography laws.

The Enhancing Online Safety (Non-consensual Sharing of Intimate Images) Bill 2018 reflects part—just part—of the government’s ongoing commitment to keep Australians safe online. It deals with a very specific form of abuse when private, intimate, nude or sexual images are shared, without the consent of those pictured. It also includes those that are photoshopped, deep fakes and morph porn. This happens sometimes when a current or an ex-partner shares an intimate image of you on social media, without your consent. Perhaps it’s to hurt or humiliate you. Perhaps it’s just that they don’t care anymore. Don’t forget that, even if you have sent someone an intimate image of yourself, it does not mean that you have agreed that this image can be shared or be sent viral on a social media site.

Image based abuse can also be referred to as technology-facilitated violence, cyber exploitation and intimate image abuse. Threats are made as part of this. They’re made in an attempt, often, to control, to blackmail, to coerce, to bully, to punish and sometimes just to hurt the victim. Sometimes it’s just because we can, because we’ve got those photos. According to a recent RMIT research paper, images are being used in highly diverse and complex ways as a form of control, abuse, humiliation and gratification that goes well beyond the jilted ex-lover scenario. There are revenge porn websites that actually encourage users to upload nude or sexual images of others, and personal information along with it, such as names, addresses and links to personal profiles. The victim can then be forced to pay to remove the images. This is blackmail or what’s known as sextortion. The most well-known of these websites are hosted overseas, and they may not be willing to take down the images.

This is a really important reason not to do it in the first place. Please don’t do it. They’ve got a business model and it is based around hosting this type of image that you, as the market, their market, provide. Think of the consequences if you were the one in the photos—the damage to your reputation and your relationships and the effect on your family, your employment, your social relationships and your personal safety. This is what people forget when they take and share these types of photos. I’ve actually seen it far too often in my years of doing these presentations. People come to me because they know I’m active in this space.

I live in a small rural and regional community. I’ve seen so often the loss of respect of the community for an individual who’s had their photos distributed. In a small, rural and regional community where everyone knows everyone, how would you feel having to walk down a small local street and go into your local shops or local businesses, like the newsagent you go to every day, where everyone in that shop is looking at you and having a bit of a laugh because they’ve seen the images? What if you were the person in the business behind the counter or providing the service and someone had photoshopped your face onto someone else’s naked or pornographic image and sent it viral in your small community?

How do you feel when, as I’ve seen, you’re the 14-year-old girl in my electorate who shared intimate photos with her boyfriend—it was a very precious relationship to her—only to find out that he’d sent them to everyone after they broke up? Is anybody here really surprised that she attempted suicide at 14? She is one of just many that I’ve dealt with, but it’s both young people and adults who have been victims. There is the adult who sent an intimate image to a beautiful woman overseas only to receive a response that said, ‘Thanks for that. If you don’t pay me $10,000, I will show this to your wife, your work and the local newspaper.’ That’s what happens when you make the choice to share this type of image.

Snapchat is just one of those apps that encourages sexting—sending naked and semi-naked selfies. It’s really rife with young people. And young people thought, because Snapchat told them so, that their images would simply disappear and they could do this with impunity. They were told, ‘No-one’s going to know you did it.’ That’s not what happened, of course. Others took screenshots of these photos, and there are apps that automatically save every single Snapchat photo. One of the other concerns—and I have seen this far too often—is that young people think they’re only sharing their images with a friend or with a small group of people, but we also know that this is a paedophile’s paradise. They find these images, access these images and use these images in ways that would horrify people in this House and elsewhere.

Sharing can occur over electronic services, email, text, multimedia messaging, social messaging services, message boards, forum websites and websites specifically designed to share images without consent. These are the reasons this bill will create a prohibition against non-consensual posting or threatening to post an intimate image. It covers social media services, relevant electronic services, such as email or text, or any designated internet service, which includes websites and peer-to-peer file-sharing services. It establishes a complaints and objections system to be administered by the eSafety Commissioner. I just wish everybody in Australia, including young people, knew to use the resources of the eSafety Commissioner’s office. There’s an extraordinary amount of assistance—advice, help, support and access to counselling—available to people through the eSafety Commissioner. Through this legislation, victims or persons authorised on behalf of victims will be able to actually lodge a complaint to the eSafety Commissioner. The first thing parents scream down the phone to me when they know that the images of their young people are viral is, ‘I just need to get them taken down, as a first step.’ Sometimes there are more steps that they want after that, but the first step is: ‘Just get it down. It’s my child that the world is seeing this way.’

The first thing is go to the eSafety Commissioner, and the eSafety Commissioner will help to get these images removed. The bill will facilitate this removal, especially where a person who initially perhaps consented has changed their mind. They will be able to lodge an objection notice with the commissioner. Very importantly, the bill will introduce civil penalties. How important is that? The eSafety Commissioner will actually enforce these. The penalties will be up to $105,000 for an individual and up to $525,000 for corporations, as they should be.
If you’re making a choice to share these without consent, this is what the options will be for actions and consequences. There needs to be a change of culture on the Internet. Having consequences is part of changing that culture. These penalties can be incurred for a breach of prohibition or a failure to comply with a removal notice. Take it down.
Last year, through the eSafety Commissioner, the government launched a pilot of a world-first new national portal for reporting non-consensual sharing of intimate images. It provides immediate support to victims of image based abuse. It is something that eats you away when it happens to you. It gives victims a place to seek assistance and report instances of image based abuse, with clear and concise information about the practical steps. You just want to get action when this happens to you. Since the launch of this, the eSafety Commissioner’s office has received over 115 reports of image based abuse. That is a drop in the ocean. Report this, please. It doesn’t matter if you are a young person or an adult. Report it. There are 220 separate URLs and locations where the images were made available. In addition, the eSafety Commissioner’s office has received almost 60 queries regarding the non-consensual sharing of intimate images and has had over 48,000 total visits to the image abuse portal. It’s telling its own story, isn’t it? That’s only the people who actually know at this time that that’s where you can go and report those instances. They might be significant statistics, but I can tell this House it is a drop in the ocean to what is happening.

I keep saying to people: please don’t do this. Please don’t come to me after the damage is done. Make a conscious decision that you’re not going to share these images in the first place. This civil penalty regime targets the perpetrators and the content hosts who knowingly engage in this behaviour. This is a real concern more broadly in the community, and parents are the ones who have been very vocal with people like me and with the government. We’ve listened to them and responded, and that’s what you can see the minister has done through this legislation. Young people are very much aware of this, but it doesn’t stop them. But the minister and the government are sending a very clear message to all Australians: the non-consensual sharing of intimate images is unacceptable in our society. That is the message through this legislation.

The bill has been developed in consultation with many stakeholders, including women’s safety organisations, mental health experts, schools and education departments, the victims, the e-Safety Commissioner and members of the government’s Online Safety Consultative Working Group. I want to commend the government for forming the eSafety Commissioner’s office. I was strongly involved in this. But we’re always playing catch-up because of what people choose to do and what people choose to share online. The importance of this legislation cannot be overstated.

In closing, I will go back to where I started: please do not share any of these images. Make a conscious decision. Encourage your families and your young people. Tell them that it’s not okay and what can actually happen to them once they click ‘send’ or ‘post’.