FRIDAY, 19 FEBRUARY 2016
SUBJECTS: Revenge Porn
JON FAINE: Yesterday a senior Federal Police officer, Assistant Commissioner Shane Connelly told an inquiry into “sexting” as it's called – of people sending pictures of themselves in inappropriate circumstances over the internet – told an inquiry in Sydney that people just have to grow up in terms of what they're taking and loading onto the computer because the risk is so high.
He says that if you put naked pictures of yourself on the internet, well it's your fault if you then end up being blackmailed, as we were talking about at length last week.Well, Tim Watts is the Federal ALP Member of Parliament for Gellibrand who has a Private Member's Bill in the Parliament about what's called "revenge porn". Tim Watts, good morning to you.
TIM WATTS, MEMBER FOR GELLIBRAND: Great to be here, John.
FAINE: What's your reaction then to the Federal Police Assistant Commissioner saying that you've only got yourself to blame effectively?
WATTS: Well John, these kinds of attitudes are exactly why Terri Butler and I have introduced this Bill to criminalise revenge porn across Australia. These attitudes are condescending and totally misguided. When we're focusing on the behaviour of victims of sexual assaults and not the perpetrators, something's really wrong here. And unfortunately the current Senate Inquiry looking into this practice has heard a lot of evidence that police simply don't take these kinds of offences seriously. And they spend more time policing the behaviour of victims than they do perpetrators.
FAINE: Well, if the police – and we learn from our guests last week, there are 40,000 or so complaints to ACORN a year – they can hardly follow up every single one of those can they?
WATTS: We're talking about different things here, John. The specific offence we're talking about here is when two people share private sexual material, so maybe via a text message or email - something like that. And then one person without consent then shares that image more broadly. There is evidence to say that it's widespread, but the key here is to send a message to people, mostly men, that they need to be accountable for their own actions – that if you're engaging in any kind of sexual conduct you need consent. And if you do something without consent then the law, and law enforcement officials, ought to hold you accountable for that.
FAINE: But isn't it the blackmail that's the crime, not the lodging of a picture on a device on the internet?
WATTS: Well they're both a crime John. The Senate Inquiry has heard a lot of evidence that the threat to share this kind of information is frequently used in family violence circumstances. So it's used to blackmail people to stay in abusive relationships or to manipulate other outcomes. But we should also be clear that the sharing of this private sexual material in a way that's deliberately designed to hurt and harm the victim has catastrophic impacts. It can hurt employment prospects, it can hurt family relationships, and it can have a really devastating impact on the mental health of victims. People live in this state of anxiety wondering where the images are going to pop up next. We've heard horrible stories about these images being posted with the contact details of the women. So they have to live with a constant stream of men coming and propositioning them and sexually harassing them - not even the person they previously had a relationship with. This is really serious stuff and my message to the police throughout this Inquiry is that they need to be treating these kinds of online sexual assaults in the same way as they treat real life sexual assaults. You'd never hear of - well, you used to hear it, but you hear it less often - police saying "well you know, she was raped but she was wearing a short skirt and she was out late at night". That kind of victim-blaming is not acceptable any more in the real world and we need to get the message through that it shouldn't be acceptable in the online world either.
FAINE: OK then you're talking about attitudinal changes particularly within law enforcement - not just across the community. And if you're not just talking about attitudinal changes but also a reallocation of resources, and it's not a bottomless pit, then where does the money come from? Do you take money away from other areas of police activity and say "well this now is more important"? Or do you maintain it as a kind of low priority that just gets… basically when there's nothing else needing doing then we'll attend to that one.
WATTS: Well what we've heard in the Senate Inquiry is that while it is important that police resources are dedicated to taking this seriously, if the law sends a clear message that this is not only wrong, but criminal - that will alter people's behaviour. At the moment there is this sort of community attitude very often, sometimes amongst men, that this is all a bit of fun or it's a nasty thing to do but not necessarily an illegal thing to do. If the law is clear that this is not just wrong, but criminal, you'll see a reduction in the number of these offences. At the moment it's a bit of a new area. People are still feeling out new norms and attitudes. But we need to send a really clear message.
FAINE: But one of the main things you can do is educate people about the risks. You'll never be able to investigate every crime. And one of the most valuable things you can do is to tell people it's a really stupid thing that can so easily and readily backfire.
WATTS: John, I couldn't disagree more. I think the easiest message to send here...
FAINE: You couldn't disagree more?
WATTS: Yeah, the message to send here is that you should be accountable for your actions in a sexual relationship and that consent matters. That's a message that we need to send across the entire population, not just in the online space but in the real world as well.
FAINE: Sure, consent matters but if you are going to be responsible for your own actions, if you put pictures of yourself into a medium where you have no control where they go...
WATTS: Well that's not what we're talking about here, what we're talking about is the sharing of private sexual material within a private context. So the Bill would only cover material that has a reasonable expectation of privacy – so if we're in a relationship and we share sexual material, and then that material is taken out of that private relationship and put into the public sphere. We're not talking about posting stuff publically on the internet. If people want to do that - that's fine. But the law wouldn't protect them.
FAINE: Well it gets reposted is the point I supposed. Look, let's chat about it when we both have more time.
WATTS: It's a pleasure John.
FAINE: It's been a very interesting discussion this morning and thank you indeed.
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