How do you define revenge porn? It might seem easy enough when it’s an angry man posting a naked photo of his ex-girlfriend to 4Chan. But what happens when it’s an image of a lewd act in the workplace that touches off a national conversation about gender bias, power imbalances, and sexual assault?
Australia was scandalized when video surfaced of a male political staffer who filmed himself jerking off on the desk of a female member of Australia’s parliament in Canberra—one of many stories from the past few months that have turned the media spotlight on the treatment of women in Australian workplaces.
When local news station Channel 10 aired images from the video, it blurred both the identity of the masturbator and the sexually graphic elements you might expect. But now the unnamed man says publication of the images was “revenge porn,” according to a new report from Australia’s national broadcaster, ABC News.
The man was subsequently fired from his job working as a staffer in the office of Australia’s conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison. The photos were reportedly provided to Channel 10 by a man who doesn’t work in government, but to make things even more complicated, that man was reportedly involved in orgies at Parliament House in the capitol city of Canberra—yet another piece of the puzzle that’s made for awkward talk around Australian dinner tables lately.
ABC News explains that police in Canberra (referred to below as part of the ACT, a bit like the special district of Washington, D.C. in the U.S.) have received a report about the man’s claims of revenge porn:
In a statement to the ABC, ACT police confirmed they received a report on March 30.
“At this time, officers are engaging with a complainant and completing an assessment of the report,” the statement said.
A report is different to a formal complaint, which is usually what is required to begin a full investigation or the seizing of evidence.
Multiple sources within the federal government have told the ABC the sacked staffer remains very loyal to the Coalition and does not want the issue in the media or further controversy.
The story goes on to say that friends of the man who was fired are worried about his mental health, describing him as being in a “very dark place.”
Australia has struggled to discuss other misdeeds in government this year, including the story of Brittany Higgins, a woman who says she was raped in Parliament House two years ago by a fellow Liberal Party staffer. But Australia is finally having a conversation about the treatment of women in professional settings that other wealthy nations had 30 years ago.
It just remains to be seen whether anything truly transformative in Australian society will come of this hard and necessary conversation. Or if Australia’s inclination toward protecting the privacy of politically connected people in Canberra will take a front seat, as it has in so many previous cases of people acting badly under the leadership of Prime Minister Morrison.
It’s inappropriate to jerk off in your workplace, and even more wildly inappropriate to jerk off on the desk of a colleague you dislike. But if you film that jerk off session and your boss gets a hold of it, don’t be surprised if you get fired. Is it “revenge porn” if that video winds up on the evening news? That will be for Australian police to decide.