Page 2763 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 16 August 2017

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The government’s $23.5 million safer families package is designed to drive change in our justice and service systems to better support and respond to victims and survivors of all forms of abuse, including intimate image abuse. Putting the needs of victims and survivors at the centre of everything that the government does is at the core of this approach. It is driving collaboration and more holistic approaches across government, led by the new Coordinator-General for Family Safety, Jo Wood.

Currently the ACT’s criminal law is not able to adequately criminalise the non-consensual distribution of intimate images or threats to capture or distribute such images. The harm caused by threats to distribute can be as significant as that caused by actually sharing the images themselves.

As is the case with domestic and family violence more broadly, victims can live in states of fear. Many feel powerless to stop the perpetrator. This can make them vulnerable to many other kinds of coercion. Child pornography and acts of indecency offences require that images must be for sexual gratification or have sexual connotation. But we know that such images may be shared for a range of reasons, including to coerce, control, blackmail, humiliate or harass another person, or even for fun, social notoriety or financial gain.

These images can often be used to perpetrate different forms of violence in intimate partner relationships, an act that is not, and should never be, acceptable. Gaps in the ACT law have previously made this kind of abuse difficult to prosecute. For example, there are offences that cover obtaining or capturing such images but that do not criminalise the actual distribution or threats to distribute. The commonwealth offences available only cover scenarios using a carriage service, such as the internet. But images may be distributed by various means, including physically. In a similar way, stalking offences could apply if there were a repetition of the conduct, but intimate images may be distributed on one occasion only.

It is good to see that the new offences set out in this bill address this gap in the law. The new intimate images offences cover scenarios that have largely emerged due to advances in technology. Advances in technology, including the increased use of mobile phones and the ease of distributing content online, have contributed to a rise in the non-consensual sharing of intimate images.

The proposed new offences do not criminalise consensual sexting between adults and young people, although this conduct may be caught up in other offences. People who send sexts are protected by this new offence from having their intimate images or sexts shared without the consent of third parties.

The contexts in which people may lose control over their intimate images are varied. In some cases it might be that a person who has received or recorded an image with the consent of the subject later breaches that trust by sharing it more broadly. Images may also be obtained without the consent of the victim. The non-consensual sharing of intimate images can cause considerable harm to victims and the community. Victims are often subject to harassment, bullying and abuse following the distribution, or the threat of the distribution, of intimate images.

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