Tasmanians tell their stories of image-based abuse

DEVASTATION: The threat of image-based abuse is all too real for Tasmanian women, but some are speaking up in the hope they can help others.
DEVASTATION: The threat of image-based abuse is all too real for Tasmanian women, but some are speaking up in the hope they can help others.

“Open your legs for me.”

Bella* has not long been home from school when the messages begin to flood her phone.

“I still have pics and vids of you.”

“Come on, play nice.”

Confused, Bella fires off a reply.

“What do you mean by that?” she asks.

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Another message comes through.

“Be a good girl.”

Bella’s mother grabs the phone.

“What are you trying to do to my beautiful daughter … ????????” she writes.

A response lands, like a kick in the guts.

“Get her to open her legs.”

This is just one of many stories of image-based abuse in Tasmania.

‘Revenge porn’, as it is colloquially known, is the use of intimate images of a person to abuse or exploit them.

It entered the public consciousness when jilted ex-lovers began broadcasting images of their former partners via social media platforms.

But image-based abuse has become so much more than just a means for spurned lovers to seek revenge.

‘Humiliated, mortified’

When her teenage daughter began closing herself off from friends and family, Tracy* knew something was wrong.

“Over a period of several weeks I noticed my daughter was distancing herself from friends, she began to show a lot of misery relating to going to school,” Tracy says.

At the high school young Samantha* attended, toxic masculinity was “normalised”, Tracy says.

“[It] seemed to have a … culture of boys being rude to girls, being abusive and intimidating,” she says.

Eventually, Samantha explained to her mother that her boyfriend Dan* had “pressured” her to send him a nude photo of herself.

Over a period of several weeks I noticed my daughter was distancing herself from friends, she began to show a lot of misery relating to going to school.

Mother of image-based abuse victim

She told Tracy that she was worried Dan would break up with her if she did not comply.

“Although he didn’t share the photo, he had told some of his friends about it which led to rumours throughout the school of what she had done,” Tracy says.

“My daughter felt humiliated, mortified, her trust of others was destroyed, she stopped engaging with friends.”

Samantha changed schools as a result of her experience of image-based abuse.

But the fallout of the incident didn’t end there.

Dan’s parents got word of what had happened and banned him from seeing Samantha.

“They had formed an opinion that my daughter was not going to be a good influence for their son,” Tracy says.

After speaking with sexual assault support counsellors, Tracy says she came to the realisation that image-based abuse was actually an “emerging cultural issue” and that further education was needed to prevent offending and combat victim-blaming attitudes.

Indeed, it was in this frame of mind that Tracy decided to reach out to Dan’s parents.

“I explained to them how this is a cultural issue and rather than blaming our kids we need to help them see the risks associated with this behaviour and the breach of trust when the person receiving the photo tells or shares it with others,” she says.

“Even though my daughter changed schools, I thought it was important that [she] felt supported.

“It would have been far too easy for my daughter to come out of this experience with feelings of shame which would have impacted her for years.”

Not everything is resolved for Tracy and Samantha, however.

“The issue still remains,” Tracy says.

“Boys are still pressuring girls for nude photos.”

If you or someone you know has experienced image-based abuse, contact Sexual Assault Support Service in the South on (03) 6231 1811, Laurel House in the North on (03) 6334 2740 or in the North-West on (03) 6431 9711.

*Names altered to protect subjects’ identities.

‘Blame and Shame’ is a five-part series from Fairfax Media, seeking to shed light on image-based abuse in Tasmania. Look out for part three on Wednesday.