Oh hey, look, another news report on a victim of revenge porn. That is the fourth one this month. It is so nice to read that horrible people have found one more way to use the internet and social media to make life miserable for others. Just as I was calming down after writing about the lack of legal protection against cyberbullying, too.
Yes, time for me to rant again, sorry. I promise I am not always this angry. You’ve just caught me at a difficult and emotional time.
I consider revenge porn, or whatever label you want to give it, an incredible violation of a person’s privacy and trust. I cannot believe there are people out there who are so depraved they will post private, intimate, and humiliating photographs and videos of someone – usually someone very close to the person posting the material – for the sole purpose of causing that person hurt, shame, and embarrassment. Yet believe it I must, as it has happened, continues to happen, and if the statistics on the issue are to be believed will happen even more frequently with each passing year.
Unfortunately, I cannot offer any quick and easy legal solutions to the victims of revenge porn attacks. Under our laws, there are only very limited legal protections available to a victim, with (at the time of writing this section in mid 2018) Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia being the only states and territories in Australia that have specific criminal laws that make it illegal to post intimate or private photographs or video of a person to the internet without that person’s express consent. Those laws also make it a crime for someone to threaten to post such photos or videos online, if the impact of the threat causes the victim to become scared for their safety or feel intimidated or harassed.
Disappointingly, there are gaping holes in the protections these laws provide, and the consequences for anyone found guilty under these laws are insignificant when weighed up against the emotional impact that acts of revenge porn have on the life of the victim.
And, get this: the New South Wales revenge porn laws allow the court to show some leniency when sentencing someone found guilty of an act of revenge porn. If the guilty person is able to show that he (or she) was drunk or on drugs when he (or she) posted the private or intimate material online, then the New South Wales revenge porn laws say that the court can give the offender a reduced sentence (such as a lower fine or less jail time).
I am very disappointed in this result. It means that, in my home state, if someone posts naked pictures of another person on Facebook while drunk, that person can rely on a defence of ‘drunkenness’ to reduce the severity of their punishment. What a terrible result this would be for the victim of the revenge porn attack. To be publicly humiliated and shamed by having intimate images posted online. To go through the stress and embarrassment of a court hearing with everything that has happened to the victim aired in public, argued and debated by lawyers and questioned by judges and juries. And for it to end with the perpetrator able to leave court with the legal equivalent of a slap on the wrist. All because he (or she) told the court that he (or she) was too drunk at the time of posting the materials online to fully appreciate the impact of their actions on the victim.
While others states and territories have had discussions on making revenge porn illegal, no formal legislation has been passed as of mid 2018. I hope this changes soon.
It is not all doom and gloom however (just mostly). There have been some success stories for victims, such as a case in 2012 when a former boyfriend of a young woman was charged with publishing naked photos of the woman on Facebook, for the sole purpose of shaming and humiliating her after the couple broke up. He was sentenced to six months in jail.
In the states and territories without specific revenge porn laws, a victim of revenge porn could possibly bring a charge of domestic violence against their partner or apply to the police or a court for a restraining order preventing the partner from contacting the victim, whether physically or online. However, these are all less than ideal solutions to the problem of revenge porn. The sooner all states and territories introduce specific laws in this area (that don’t allow for excuses of drunkenness) the more chance victims have of seeing justice served on the offender.
Finally, some victims of revenge porn have sued their attacker in civil court, rather than (or in addition to) trying to bring criminal charges against the attacker in criminal court. A legal action available called ‘breach of confidence’ allows a victim to sue the attacker and to ask the court to make an order requiring the offender to pay money to the victim as compensation for the harm and humiliation suffered. I like to think that being forced to pay a victim several thousand, or tens of thousands, of dollars in damages will have a very significant impact on the life of the attacker and go some small way to restore a sense of justice in the mind of the victim. It is a pity, then, that this type of court action is almost never used as it is a difficult, expensive, and very public way for a victim of revenge porn to seek compensation from an offender.
Ultimately, the law will always be limited in how it can control fuck-wits who post intimate photographs and videos of their partners or friends on the internet. Even when (if) laws specifically targeting revenge porn are put in place throughout Australia, the law can do nothing to erase the shame and humiliation that victims of this incredible breach of personal privacy suffer.