Image-Based Abuse: The Phenomenon of Digitally Manipulated Images
Image-based abuse, colloquially referred to as ‘revenge porn’ (‘revenge porn’ is a misnomer) is an umbrella term. It refers to the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. Contrary to popular belief, there is much more to image-based abuse than the textbook ‘revenge porn’ scenario of the ‘jilted ex-lover sharing nude photos of their ex without consent’. Image-based abuse can be perpetrated in a number of ways, for a number of reasons including (among other things) to control, harass, humiliate, shame, coerce or sexually objectify a victim.
Image-based abuse is the recording, sharing or threatening to record or share, intimate images without consent. ‘Image’ means photo or video. ‘Intimate image’ means an image of a person engaged in a private act, or of a person’s private parts, or of a person in circumstances one would expect to be afforded privacy. ‘Intimate image’ can also mean an image that has been ‘altered’ without consent (digitally manipulated, doctored, photo shopped, etc.) to show a person in any of the above (i.e. engaged in a private act, etc.)
Photo: Noelle Martin (Me). Source: ABC NEWS (Dave Martin)
To date there is little to no research, data or information on the phenomenon of digitally manipulated images, but this issue is known to academics, researchers, cyber safety experts and women’s groups, and this issue is being incorporated into some recent law reform initiatives in Australia.
As a survivor-turned-advocate of this particular type of image-based abuse (link to my story here). I hope to provide some much needed insight into this form of image-based abuse and the many ways it can occur in the digital age. I will also provide a few tips on what to do if this happens to you.
The insight I provide below cannot tell you the exact extent nor how frequent this phenomenon is occurring, but what I can tell you is that there are horrific online cultures (websites/threads) that exist which host and facilitate the creation and distribution of digitally manipulated images. I can tell you some of its forms and I can tell you that I’m not the only one. Recent comprehensive research conducted in Australia shows that 1 in 5 Australians experience image-based abuse, while this takes into account other forms of this issue too, the prevalence of image-based abuse in general is telling.
Forms of Digitally Manipulated Image-Based Abuse
This form is where person A’s face is photo shopped onto pornographic material in such a way to suggest that person A is truly depicted in the pornographic material. For me, this form manifested itself when my face was:
photo shopped onto images of naked adult actresses engaged in sexual intercourse;
photo shopped on images where I was in highly explicit sexual positions in solo pornographic shots;
photo shopped on images where I was being ejaculated on by naked male adult actors;
photo shopped on images where I had ejaculation on my face; and
photo shopped on the cover of a pornographic DVD.
I must also point out that these altered images of me quite literally identified me by name in the image. My name was edited onto the bottom of these images in fancy font to suggest that I was some adult actress.
2. ‘Transparent Edits’
This form of image-based abuse is where a person’s clothes are digitally manipulated to give the effect of it being see-through. For example, a woman’s blouse can be edited so that the appearance of nipples can be seen through their clothes (this happened to me).
This form of image-based abuse is where a perpetrator has ejaculated onto an image of person A, and has taken an image of their semen (with/without penis) on person A’s image. The perpetrator can take this second image (containing person A’s image and perpetrators penis/semen) and post it online. There are many forums and websites that feature galleries of this kind of image-based abuse (this happened to me).
4. ‘Bodily Alterations’
This form of image-based abuse is where a perpetrator digitally manipulates an image of person A by enlarging or enhancing person A’s private parts, particularly the breasts or behind. The alterations are usually very extreme.
This form of image-based abuse is where a perpetrator doesn’t necessarily alter an image of person A, but instead juxtaposes (places side-by-side) an image of person A next to say, a pornographic image of person B, where person B has a similar-looking appearance/body to person A. The perpetrator can explicitly or implicitly indicate that the pornographic image of person B, is person A.
6. ‘Unidentifiable Alterations’
This form of image-based abuse is where a perpetrator digitally manipulates an image of person A (into highly sexual material) but person A cannot be (objectively) identified at all. In this grey area, I believe that it really doesn’t matter whether person A can be identifiable by third parties, what matters to me is whether person A can identify themselves, because it is EXTREMELY violating and degrading to be the subject of digital manipulation in itself. Plain and simple.
These are some of the many ways the phenomenon of digital manipulation can occur.
What can you do if this happens to you?
Unfortunately, the laws in Australia are limited. The NSW Parliament has recently passed an image-based abuse bill that will criminalise distributing, recording or threatening to distribute or record intimate images (including ‘altered’ images) without consent. South Australia and Victoria have ‘revenge porn’ laws but neither explicitly mention ‘altered’ images or digitally manipulated images. The Federal Government is in the process of potentially creating a civil penalty regime to complement existing criminal penalties, that could potentially cover digitally manipulated images. And the Office of the eSafety Commissioner is working on an online complaints mechanism for images shared without consent.
In the meantime, there are options. The eSafety Women website provides a list of what you can do. You can:
Collect all the evidence
Report it to the police
If you are over 18, you can report it to ACORN(Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network)
If you are under 18, you can report it to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.
You can contact the webmasters/content hosts and request the removal of the material. (Proceed with caution)
Google has a reporting function to remove intimate images that have been shared without consent. Google can remove such images from its search results.
Facebook also has the tools to remove intimate images that have been shared without consent from Facebook, Messenger and Instagram.
Contact a lawyer and seek advice.
Contact local women’s groups/ domestic violence groups.
Sign petitions urging Australia to change the law ASAP.
Just remember, you are NOT alone. Wherever you are in the world. ❤
If you or someone you know may be suffering from mental illness, contact SANE, the National Mental Health Charity Helpline on 1800 187 263 or Lifeline, a 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention service on 13 11 14.