Image-based abuse

By  eSafety Commissioner     |    Updated: 12th May, 2017    |    9 min read

Image-based abuse is when intimate or sexual photos or videos are shared online without consent, either to humiliate or shame someone, or for the ‘entertainment’ of others.
This factsheet covers:

  • What is it
  • What to do about it
  • Looking after yourself

What is it?

Abusers sometimes share photos and videos, without consent, on popular social media sites so friends and family will see them, or on specific websites set up to humiliate people. Some members of photo and video sharing platforms encourage users to post identifying information about the person in the photos and videos. They also encourage other users to contact the people in the photos or videos to abuse, threaten or scare them. Some “rate” the people in the photos and videos and make demeaning comments.

Sometimes photos and videos are obtained consensually, but then forwarded or shared without consent. Another way they can be obtained is when devices or cloud storage platforms are hacked. Celebrities are sometimes the targets of this, with private photos and videos sold to the media.

What to do about it?

It can be hard to get photos and videos removed once they are shared online, however there are some steps you can take:

Report it

  • If you are under 18 in the photo or video you can report it to us and we will help get the photo or video taken down. You can also report to local police. There are different laws across Australia that cover the sharing of certain photos and videos of younger Australians which could apply. Make sure you take evidence with you.
  • If you are over 18 you can report the photo or video to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network. The report will be assessed and may be referred to the police for investigation. Victoria and South Australia have specific laws that apply to image-based abuse. Reports made to ACORN help with the national and international tracking of cybercrime.
  • Contact the webmaster/administration of all websites the photos or videos are hosted on and ask them to remove them. Save a record of your request including the date you sent it.
  • If you feel safe to do so, contact the person who has shared the photo or video and ask them to remove it and delete all copies. This is probably only useful if you suspect the person didn’t maliciously share your photo or video.
  • You may choose to seek advice from a lawyer. If eligible you can seek free advice from a Community Legal Centre or Legal Aid. If you are under 18 you can get free legal advice from the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre.

Collect evidence

  • You may need evidence to help our Office and local police to help you get the photos or videos taken down.
  • Keep evidence of the photos and videos by taking screenshots and copying the web addresses (URLs) of the content. You may also use another device to take photos of the content and web addresses.

Search it

  • Google your name to identify all the sites the photos and videos are hosted on.
  • Conduct a “Reverse image search” using this guide from Google.
  • Google also offers a tool to stop image-based abuse pages appearing in Google Search Engine results. This means the content won’t appear when people search for the pages using Google. This is an excellent service although it will only help with Google searches. The content will still appear in search results for other search engines such as Yahoo and Bing.
    • Remember, just because it doesn’t appear in a Google search result, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. As stated above, you must contact the Webmaster or Administration of each website and ask them to take it down.
  • Microsoft offers a similar service for Bing, OneDrive and Xbox Live. In response to reports, Microsoft removes links to photos and videos from search results in Bing and blocks access to the actual content when shared on OneDrive or Xbox Live. Watch Microsoft’s video on removing image-based abuse from Microsoft services.

Look after yourself

  • Above all remember you haven’t done anything wrong – the person who shared your photo or video is in the wrong. You should not feel ashamed and you should believe that things will get better.
  • Having your private photo or video shared is a betrayal of trust and an act of abuse, but it doesn’t need to define the rest of your life. You can overcome this.
  • You may want to have a friend support you when searching for photos and videos as it can be confronting. When viewing the websites, photos and videos, focus only on collecting evidence and reporting. Don’t focus on the comments—many of the comments on these websites are very hurtful.
  • Seek support if you have been targeted by this type of abuse.

Build your online image

  • If you rely on your online image for work you can try to bury any image-based abuse content so it is down the list of search engine results.
  • The way to do this is by creating lots of new or old, reposted, positive content with your name attached and getting people to visit it. You may want to consider starting a new account for your public or work persona.
  • Do a Search on ‘creating a positive digital reputation’ for help with this.

What if it has happened to your child?

  • If your child’s intimate photo or video has been posted online don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Support them and reassure them. Remember they are growing up in a digital world that is quite different to our adolescent world.
  • Make it clear to your child that they will get through this. Avoid shaming them…whether you agree with what they have done or not. They rely on you to buffer them from distress. This is a time when their needs must come first. Reassure them that they are loved no matter what they have done. This is critical to help protect their mental health.
  • Ask them to think about what they would say if this happened to a close friend…and then help them direct those same words of reassurance and care towards themselves.
  • Work through the practical steps above with them. You may want to contact their school for support and to ensure they are keeping an eye on them and watching for any concerning behaviour from them or towards them that may result, such as shaming or bullying.
  • Keep them connected to supportive friends and family, online and offline.
  • Keep them engaged in activities that give them meaning and remind them that they are wonderful.
  • When you are both ready, talk about respectful relationships…and how to know if somebody has crossed a line. The Line is a good resource for young people, and also has pages for parents.
  • Understand that your child may be heartbroken due to the betrayal and possibly due to the reaction of friends. Think back to a time when you felt betrayed or heartbroken as a young person. Hold them tight and reassure them that things will get better.
  • If you find managing this in a supportive way too difficult…it is okay. Seek help from others such as through Kids Helpline, eHeadspace, a school counsellor, or a psychologist.
  • Find out more on iParent.

Looking after yourself

If you or someone you know has been the target of image-based abuse, had photos shared on ‘porn-sharing’ websites, or experienced other online abuse you may need to seek support.

We want you to understand that what happened was not acceptable and not your fault. We want you to know that it is not okay that your trust was breached.

We want you to know that you will be able to move past this.

How you feel after abuse is different for every person. Many people who have experienced abuse have these reactions:

  • Helpless, powerless
  • Vulnerable
  • Scared
  • Shocked
  • Ashamed and embarrassed
  • Scared others will find out
  • Angry
  • Have distressing memories
  • Have nightmares
  • Have trouble sleeping or wake early and be unable to sleep again
  • Replaying the abuse or the lead up or aftermath over and over
  • Feeling very anxious and worried
  • Feeling very sad or flat

Some ways to cope with the trauma

  • Accept that this is a hard time.
  • Talk to friends or family who will be understanding.
  • Stick to your regular routines as much as possible…the quicker you get back to normal life the easier it will be.
  • Make rules with yourself banning yourself from self-blame and going over what happened over and over again. This will just repeat the trauma and make you feel worse.
  • Understand that what happened doesn’t change your core as a person…it is just one experience, no matter how traumatic.
  • If you keep re-running what happened in your mind write it down in detail, including your feelings. It can be a very emotional process (there may be many tears) but it can help to get it all out of your head and on paper/screen.
  • Think about what you would say to a good friend if they were going through this. Now direct those same words of reassurance and care towards yourself. You need to be your own best friend right now.
  • Be kind to yourself. Put on some good music, watch a favourite movie or TV show, talk to a friend, visit someone you love, read a book, drink a great cup of coffee or hot chocolate.
  • Try to eat regularly even if you don’t feel hungry, or feel nauseous.
  • Try to sleep at regular times, or at least rest if you can.
  • Use your anxiety or anger for good. Use the energy to clean your house or car, go for a walk or a jog.
  • Remember ‘This too shall pass’. Things will get better.

If you continue to feel bad, worried, angry or sad there is support available. Please talk to somebody. You don’t need to do it alone.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2017. Published by the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner and freely available at: https://esafety.gov.au/esafety-information/esafety-issues/image-based-abuse. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives 2.5 Australia Licence

Also check the related topics:  

Cyberbullying Staying safe online Abusive relationships Boy/girlfriend relationship Cyberbullying

Factsheet provided by eSafety Commissioner


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