go to content

It’s 2016 And No One Seems To Know How To Deal With Revenge Porn

Or, alternatively, no one wants to.

Posted on

The Australian government, police, education bodies and social media sites appear to be struggling to figure out how to adequately deal with revenge porn online.

This week a revenge porn Facebook group and private chat called Melbourne's Men's Club was shut down by Facebook for a second time.

The group first appeared earlier this year, and Facebook took down the group after BuzzFeed News reported on its existence.

But the group's resurgence highlights the inability of authorities to deal with revenge porn in any meaningful way.

In October last year federal Labor MPs Tim Watts and Terri Butler introduced a revenge porn bill to parliament. The bill aimed to amend the Criminal Code to introduce three new offences for anyone involved in "image-based sexual exploitation".

When the bill was introduced, the Coalition government refused to bring it up for debate, saying it would be better dealt with by state governments, not federal.

Victoria is the only jurisdiction to have criminalised revenge porn. South Australia, Western Australia, and NSW are introducing measures to follow suit. The government is still refusing to make it a federal offence. The Coalition's current policy is to create a national complaints mechanism for victims of revenge porn.

In February, a senate inquiry into revenge porn called for it to be criminalised on federal and all state and territory levels. The report also called for police to receive a "basic minimum training" in relation to non-consensual sharing of intimate images. In the report, the Australian Federal Police said it struggled to deal with incidents of revenge porn in a timely matter.

Authorities also seem unclear on who should deal with reports of revenge porn, and how they should go about policing it.

Melbourne's Men's Society first appeared in April, and BuzzFeed News contacted Victoria Police to ask what it was doing to stop the spread of revenge porn and the formation of groups such as Melbourne's Men's Society. Victoria Police told BuzzFeed News to contact ACORN, the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network, however by that time the page had already been removed by Facebook.

Victoria Police eventually told BuzzFeed News that without the exact name of the person who reported the page, and the location of the person, they would not be able to act.

When Melbourne's Men's Society appeared again this week, BuzzFeed News went directly to ACORN. ACORN told BuzzFeed News it had "no investigative powers or remit" and that investigating cybercrime was the responsibility of Australia's law enforcement agencies. BuzzFeed News then contacted Victoria Police multiple times, both by email and phone, but it is yet to respond.

The Victorian schooling system already has multiple schemes in place to teach students about safety and appropriate behaviour online. A spokesperson for the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority told BuzzFeed News several areas of the curriculum aim to help students navigate relationships by providing strategies for safe interaction online.

The curriculum also advocates “appropriate bystander behaviour”, in other words encouraging students to stand up for each other and report wrongdoing when it's encountered. A Victorian Department of Education spokesperson said the department was “working hard to educate young people about the smart, safe, and responsible use of social media”.

"We also warn students about the consequences of this type of behaviour," the spokesperson said, "from the emotional impact on those targeted to the potential criminal repercussions for perpetrators".

However, BuzzFeed News' interactions with members of Melbourne's Men's Society, which appears to mostly consist of young men, suggests some students aren't responding to the education programs. Many of the members told BuzzFeed News that there was a rival all-female group that was also sharing naked images of young men. When the members were asked to supply evidence of this, they failed to do so, but believed it to be reason enough to share their own images of naked women.

Members of Melbourne's Men's Society also seemed to rally under the premise of "brotherhood".

"MMS is a brotherhood of love," said one member. "Everyone is so quick to judge us for the old MMS pages around nobody is willing to even think twice before judging."

Both the BuzzFeedOz News Facebook and a reporter's Facebook were sent messages from members of the group saying "don't dog the boys", along with explicit images in some cases.

Other members pleaded ignorance, believing that if they had not submitted photos themselves they were not responsible.

"I take no interest in them [photos of naked women]," said a member. "I don't give a fuck." When pressed as to why they wouldn't report the images, the same member said "I didn't see them, cunt."

BuzzFeed News has contacted federal minister for justice Michael Keenan for comment.

Brad Esposito is a news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Brad Esposito at bradley.esposito@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.