Katie Harris: Education needed to stop revenge porn – why we need more than a law change

OPINION:

Proposed changes to the Harmful Digital Communications Act won’t be a panacea for stopping intimate recordings being shared without consent.Katie Harris reports.

There’s a shared sense of horror among my friends and myself when yet another “revenge porn” story surfaces, each often more disturbing than the last.

It’s an unspoken understanding of how easy it would be to become that girl, woman or person behind in words.

The one whose virtual autonomy has been stolen, shared and spat out – or the one who never really knew, let alone had, the image in the first place.

In the last few years there’s been a greater recognition of the harm these transgressions can cause. Laws have been established, prominent people have backed usually nameless movements and the powerful have been held to account, but for many young Kiwis the issue still stands.

Much like a lobster in a pot, we haven’t recognised the heat of digital misconduct rising and now it really is suffocating us.

I didn’t know it until it happened to me.

I’m sure the man who did it never thought what he’d done would feel so violating, I’m sure he never imagined this “fun” video he sent to his friends would have lasting effects.

And I’m almost certain he never was taught why his behaviour in this instance was so abhorrent.

Offending like this is still regularly placed in society’s not-so-serious basket, we are told “at least he didn’t sexually assault you. You are lucky.”

However, some victims may find it feels just as bad – if not worse – as the sexual violation lives frozen in time online for the world to see.

Netsafe receives about 550 reports relating to image-based sexual abuse and a study from 2019 found 250,000 people had experienced this type of abuse.

A few years ago when I was in university it was common to hear people bragging about getting nudes from someone, and then proceeding to pass their phone on to friends so they could all take a geez.

It was so normal that I remember seeing it happen in the library, at a house before a night out and shown around parties once the alcohol had taken over.

The most shocking photo I heard about was of people having sex – captured by another when they burst into the room.

I said something then but I should have done more.

Currently the Harmful Digital Communications Act requires someone to intend to hurt someone when they post explicit images.

However an amendment has been proposed in Parliament which seeks to explicitly make posting of intimate images and recordings without consent illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison.

If approved, this will mean prosecutors no longer have to prove harm was intended by sharing the image or video.

Victoria University of Wellington lecturer Dr Samantha Keene said sexual violence generally is often trivialised and minimised.

“So when it comes to online offending, or the non-consensual sharing of nudes, sometimes people may think perhaps there isn’t a real victim involved here because it’s done in humour or done in jest. But we know the harms are immense and can be long lasting.”

Part of dismantling rape culture, she said, is providing thorough holistic education around what’s okay and what’s not.

“Having education about what the harm of that is can really help someone recognise the severity of that behaviour.”

Keene told the Herald we need to ensure parents are equipped to have these conversations with young people, but said it doesn’t just affect younger age groups.

Part of keeping this behaviour in check, she said, also falls on people calling out their friends when they hear about issues like this.

“I’m not sure how widespread the knowledge is about the law, but I certainly know that Netsafe as a provider is very keen to ensure that message is available.”

The video I never consented to is probably still out there, and I’ll never really know why he did what he did, but what I can do is raise awareness so others know this behaviour is not acceptable.

And it never was.

Where to get help:

• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• https://www.lifeline.org.nz/services/suicide-crisis-helpline
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202
• NATIONAL ANXIETY 24 HR HELPLINE: 0800 269 4389

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