Victims of revenge porn—the nonconsensual distribution of explicit images—have a difficult path to navigate to regain their privacy and seek justice. The laws have yet to catch up to the crime, and the average person doesn’t have the means to quickly take down intimate images from the web—they’re often at the mercy of tech giants. But the Australian government is trying to address the issue with a national portal dedicated to offering support and reporting tools for revenge porn victims.
The Australian government announced last year that its eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, would lead the development of this online reporting tool, which is now available in a pilot phase, with the official launch slated for early next year. According to a press release from Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield, the Commissioner received $4.8 million in funding to deploy the portal, which is reportedly the first of its kind. The pilot phase will give the team time to determine “the volume and complexity of the reports received” before it officially launches.
As it stands, the portal covers a lot of bases when it comes to grappling with the aftermath of revenge porn. It includes information on how victims can collect evidence, report non-consensually shared intimate images to major tech companies as well as law enforcement, and on what others can do to support victims. Victims can also file a report to the eSafety team. The team pledges to help victims with a number of different things, such as reaching out to tech companies for them in order to get a photo taken down, and using “specialized technology” to track down the image across the web. The team cannot, however, directly help victims press charges or take further legal action—but it can help connect you with the appropriate contacts.
About one in 25 Americans has been the victim of revenge porn, according to a 2016 study by the US Data & Society Research Institute and the Center for Innovative Public Health Research. For Australians, it’s about one in five, according to a study by two Melbourne universities. And while most major social media companies have policies in place that ban this type of content on their platforms, that doesn’t mean it’s always properly policed, as we saw with the thousands of current and former male Marines posting revenge porn in private Facebook groups earlier this year. Social networking companies aside, tech giants in general fail to always protect their users, as we saw with “the Fappening” iCloud leak.
This portal certainly seems to serve as a streamlined and trustworthy destination for victims, but ultimately it’s still a band-aid until federal laws dealing with distributors are passed—including in Australia. And it remains to be seen how many people will turn to the government’s service for help, or if other governments will follow with similar tools—given the astounding number of victims to date, the pilot phase may prove overwhelming.
Update 12:34pm: Mary Anne Franks, the legislative and tech policy director at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, told Gizmodo in an email that the portal “is the most comprehensive resource” she has seen. She noted that CCRI and Without My Consent also provide similar resources for victims, but that the US government has yet to make a commitment like this devoted to revenge porn victims.
“We at CCRI do the best we can with limited resources and volunteer staff to provide support and guidance on this issue, but there is a world of difference between the efforts of a small nonprofit and those of an official government entity,” Franks said. “This portal demonstrates that the Australian government has made this issue a priority - a remarkable statement in itself - and has dedicated real energy and resources to supporting victims. I wish that other countries, particularly ours, would follow suit.”