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Distributing Intimate Images Without Consent Will Make You A Sex Criminal

Sexual harm using images will earn up to three years imprisonment if the proposed amendments to the Harmful Digital Communications Bill go through.

The amendment would deem the individual distributor of intimate recordings without consent liable to up to three years imprisonment or a fine of up to $50,000.

Corporates may be fined up to $200,000 and the bill would give courts the power to direct online platforms to get images and recordings taken down. 

According to The Light Project coordinator, Nikki Denholm, sharing of nudes online is the top-hit on the organisation’s ‘in the know’ search tool. The Light Project is a charitable trust which helps communities navigate the new online porn landscape.

Jo Roberston, a sex therapist and research and training lead for The Light Project, says image-based abuse committed by a current or previous partner is a unique form of betrayal. She said it often came with similar symptoms to a person with PTSD.

“They feel they are to blame, that they must have done something to create this situation or experience gaslighting by others as using phrases like ‘you should have known better’ or ‘you didn’t think’ rather than focussing on the person who posted.”

Victims of image-based sexual abuse may feel less entitled to their pain given they were never assaulted physically. 

“Their pain can be, by some, minimised or laughed off as ‘just a video’.

“There is no hierarchy in trauma, the pain of image-based abuse needs to be validated and worked through.”

Otago University’s Dr Cathy Stephenson says revenge porn is no less-impacting than other forms of sexual violence. Stephenson, a GP and a senior clinical lecturer in sexual violence and partner violence, said the sharing of sexually explicit material including photos and videos is increasing at an alarming rate.

“The harm that this can cause to the victim both emotionally and psychologically is very real and can persist for years. Any change to our legislation that reduces the impact of this type of abuse can only be a positive step,” Dr Stephenson said.

Jahla Lawrence wants the amendment to include synthesised media or deep fakes in the definition of intimate visual recordings.

Lawrence, national co-ordinator of Thursdays in Black movement against sexual violence, wants the changes to make it clear that it is illegal to solicit intimate visual recordings from a minor.

“It also needs to make an explicit understanding that image-based sexual abuse is a continuum that exists long beyond just revenge pornography which is just one, quite limited example.”

She says victims of image-based sexual abuse cannot access ACC counselling in the same way that other victims of sexual abuse are.

“This amendment is saying it takes responsibility away from the survivors to justify their harm and it says that non-consensual sharing of intimate recordings is in itself harmful, and it’s not up to the victim to defend that.”

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

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