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"Not Tolerable Any More"

Support groups and experts in the rise of sexual abuse are rallying behind amendments to the Harmful Digital Communications Act.

People have until midnight tomorrow night (April 23) to comment on the Harmful Digital Communications Act (Unauthorised Posting of Intimate Visual Recording) Amendment Bill.

Labour Party MP Louisa Wall put forward the amendment to clarify the thresholds for image-based sexual abuse.

The amendments would make it a criminal offence to deliberately post images of people exposed, naked or engaged in an intimate sexual activity without their express consent.

Express consent would require the person(s) in the photo or video having full knowledge of where and how the image(s) would be used and where they would go, and consent being voluntarily given by said person(s).

Sex therapist and research and training lead of The Light Project, Jo Roberston says it is important for victims to see an accurate label attributed to their experience of image-based sexual abuse.

Netsafe education advisor and founder of generationonline.nz Anjela Webster is excited about the amendment because the ripple effect and impact of revenge porn is widely felt by more than the victims alone.

Senior clinical lecturer in sexual violence and partner violence at Otago University Dr Cathy Stephenson, who is also a GP, “totally” supports the amendment and says revenge porn is no less-impacting than other forms of sexual violence.

Thursdays in Black national coordinator Jahla Lawrence says the change in legislation would help the law to better communicate what the standards are and inform sexual violence prevention education.

Wall says the current thresholds of the law state that a victim would have to prove the person shared images with the intention to harm, and the victim would then have to prove they experienced “serious” harm.

“The principal we’re injecting into our legal argument now is that if you don’t have the person’s consent, don’t do it. If you do it, then you’re committing a sex crime.”

Wall says the “right” to have sex in marriage was outlawed in 1985, until then it was always seen as a man’s right to have sex whenever he wanted.

“We don’t live in that society any more. We have equal rights, we have equal status and we make equal choices.”

Wall hopes the principles will permeate society and let women know that at all times they are in control, and that it is always their choice to intimately engage with anybody.

“There’s no exceptions to the principles of consent and a woman’s right to choose.”

Although 95% of people targeted by this form of image-based sexual abuse are women, Wall notes new legislation will equally protect male victims of abuse including “sextortion”.

Sextortion is a phenomenon in which screenshots and recordings taken of men using online platforms for sexual pleasure are being used to blackmail them.

The call for submissions invites all genders, ages and experiences to participate and Wall notes the select committee is particularly interested in young people’s engagement.

Wall says expressed consent from a current practical position is written in response to revenge porn.

“It’s disgusting, it’s not tolerable anymore and we won’t put up with it,” said Wall.

Ellie Franco Williams is a journalism student at Massey University in Wellington.

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