Revenge porn: How easy is it to find and take down image-based abuse?

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Revenge porn: How easy is it to find and take down image-based abuse?

One difficulty is that some apps are designed to evade surveillance.

It’s believed as many as one in five people have experienced what’s called image-based abuse, but the real scale of the problem is impossible to gauge.

That’s because so much revenge porn happens in secret, or in the darkest corners of the internet, protected by technology that can make the perpetrators untraceable.

So how do you know if it’s happened to you? And if it has, what can be done?

What exactly is image-based abuse?

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner says image-based abuse occurs when “intimate, nude or sexual images are distributed without the consent of those pictured”.

It can also include the threat of these images being shared.

The office says while often used, the term “revenge porn” can be misleading because in many cases it’s not about revenge and not restricted to pornographic images.

The majority of image-based abuse happens via text, on social media, and in other traceable ways.

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner says victims should follow these steps

  • Contacting the social media service or website where the image was published to have it removed
  • Making a report to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner
  • If it’s safe, contacting the person who posted the image

“It is especially important that you contact police if you are experiencing IBA as part of an abusive or violent relationship,” the office said.

Further advice on taking action can be found at the office’s website.

If you know or suspect you’re a victim of image-based abuse, you can try to find out if and where an image has been published

Bryan Franke, a police detective in a cyber crimes unit in the US state of Colorado, specialises in tracking the sometimes scant trail of evidence online.

“One of the first things I encourage people to do is use Google Image’s reverse search,” he said.

“If you have a picture, you put it out there, you start searching for it.

“It will come back with similar images and tell you where those images are located, which websites.”

Sexting apps can help… and hinder

One difficulty is that some apps are designed to evade surveillance.

“We have a rise of apps that are designed for end-to-end encryption to make sure your message can be sent without being able to be intercepted,” said Claire Riley, senior editor at tech news website CNET.

“So if we think of a regular text message, certainly with data retention laws now, that information can be accessed through a warrant, or whatever the case may be.

“But certain apps pride themselves on making sure that your message gets from point A to point B and no one else can see it.”

The same reasons those apps are ideal for sexting also make it hard to investigate once consent is withdrawn and a crime has been committed.

“It can be the case that encrypted messaging apps on the one hand are great for protecting privacy, but on the other hand are incredibly worrying because they can protect the so-called privacy of perpetrators and sexual abusers,” Riley said.

There are also revenge porn websites that are hard to tackle

This is where a small number of the cases, some of the nastiest ones, occur. These websites are often designed to extort money from their subjects, and most are on the dark web.

Detective Franke says it can be very difficult to get in touch with the people responsible for these sites.

“A lot of them end up being outside the United States, so that limits our ability to do anything with it really to a certain degree,” he said.

Detective Franke is realistic about the limitations of what investigators can do for victims of these sites.

“There are absolutely cases where you’re not going to get any kind of justice just because of certain technology that’s out there and how some of that functions,” he said.

“Sometimes there are obstacles that are just impossible to overcome.”

Investigating revenge porn over international borders can be difficult

“The laws are struggling to catch up with that,” Detective Franke said.

He says it can make it difficult to get additional or supporting evidence from other countries.

Senior Sergeant Brett Meadows, who investigates revenge porn crimes for Victoria Police, agrees many websites simply don’t co-operate.

“I know we’ve had some recent stuff with Facebook that’s been a big positive in Australia that they will work with us when images have been posted on Facebook that we find are against the law,” he said.

“The problem we have some of the smaller ones that are set up over in some of the Eastern Bloc countries where we don’t have the laws in place or communications with those companies.”

However, police say the hardest cases are still not impossible

“It’s difficult at times, but as much as technology is moving so fast, law enforcement is always one step behind,” Senior Sergeant Meadows said.

“We are still working with coming up with ways that we can track these images. I mean, images have their own fingerprint, as they call it.

“We can find out where it’s been and where it’s come from, how many times it’s been sent. We can do checks on phones and computers and we can see certain items and find all these things.

“Yes it’s difficult, but it can still be done.”

Topics:

pornography,

laws,

social-media,

internet-culture,

australia

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