More than revenge: when intimate images are posted online

“Revenge porn”. It’s when a partner or ex-partner posts nude or intimate pictures or videos online and without consent. And in the absence of better laws, perpetrators are largely getting away with it.

The media and public responses to the issue have been slowly shifting. Where once it was common to blame and shame victims for taking nude or sexy pictures in the first place, now there are calls to hold the perpetrators of these sexual violations responsible for their actions.

The harm to victims

Victims describe feeling sexually violated when they discover their images have been posted online. In fact, like other forms of sexual violence, emerging evidence suggests that it is most often women and girls who experience this kind of victimisation. And, like our attitudes to sexual violence generally, too often we have blamed and shamed the victim while ignoring or minimising the actions of the perpetrator.

Read more at The Conversation…

Rape culture: why our community attitudes to sexual violence matter

Results from the National Community Attitudes Towards Violence Against Women (NCAS) 2013 Survey have been released today by VicHealth, and there is reason to be concerned about Australians’ attitudes to rape and violence. A surprising proportion of Australians endorse attitudes that minimise and trivialise rape. Many apportion blame to the victim while excusing the actions of perpetrators.

The findings reflect heightened concerns globally over the extent of rape culture – widely held societal norms and attitudes that condone, normalise or minimise sexual violence against women in our communities. Such attitudes play a key role in shaping the way that individuals, organisations and communities respond to sexual violence. The NCAS results show that Australia, like many other countries, has a real problem.

Read more at The Conversation…

Gender, culture and class collude in violence against women

Violence against women remains a significant issue globally and in Australian society. One in three women in Australia experience physical violence and almost one in five experience sexual violence in their lifetime. While victims of violence come from all walks of life, some women are disproportionately vulnerable.

For instance, younger women (18 to 24 years) have been foundto be at greater risk of both physical and sexual violence than women in older age groups.

Women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to violence and abuse. This is especially so when the abuser is also a carer and can exercise control over the woman’s daily needs.

Much research has demonstrated that women from Indigenous backgrounds face a much higher risk of violence. They suffer more severe forms of abuse, including disproportionately high rates of homicide. They also face culturally specific barriers to seeking support.

It is unclear whether women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds experience greater risk of violence. Once violence has occurred, cultural and language barriers can make it more difficult to find assistance.

Read more at The Conversation…

Justice denied: the neglect of sexual assault victims with a disability

People with disabilities suffer higher rates of sexual assault than are seen in the broader community. They also suffer barriers to reporting which mean the available figures are likely to significantly under represent the true rate of abuse.

One study of sexual offences reported to Victoria Policerevealed that just over a quarter of victims had a disability. Of this group, 15.6% had a psychiatric disability or mental health issue and 5.9% had an intellectual disability. This is despite data indicating that adults with a psychiatric and/or intellectual disability represent just 5.2% and 3% of the Australian population.

Read more at The Conversation

Not just ‘safe sext’: Victorian parliamentary Law Reform Committee calls for change

“Sexting” (also known as “selfies” or “noodz”) refers to the sending of sexually explicit text and/or picture messages, often via mobile phone and increasingly via social media.

Of course, there is nothing “new” about taking sexual or intimate pictures. But mobile and online technologies have raised new concerns and new legal challenges. These are in part due to the ease of taking and widely distributing these images – sometimes without the consent of the individual pictured – and sometimes where that individual is aged under 18 years.

This is why the Victorian state government directed the parliamentary Law Reform Committee to conduct an inquiry into sexting. The final report of that inquiry was released on May 29.

Among the key recommendations are changes to outdated child pornography laws, (often used in response to underage sexting), as well as a new tribunal to address the harm that unauthorised sexual images cause to youth and adults alike.

To date, public debate – as well as legal and education-based responses to sexting – have been problematic in three key ways that the committee’s recommendations (if enacted) would start to address.

Read more at The Conversation…

Turf war: pick your side and get outside with Google’s Ingress

Don’t read technology blogs? Then a new innovation in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMPORGs) may be passing you by.

Perhaps, like me, such games have never been of much interest to you. Or perhaps they haven’t been able to hold your sustained attention. So why should you care now?

Because, as I have discovered since playing Google’s new Android-only augmented reality (AR) game Ingress (launched earlier this month by invitation-only), you are already potentially interacting with its players as you go about your day.

Perhaps my fellow Ingress players and I have even bumped into you in the street because we were obsessively watching our smartphones instead of where we were walking (sorry, by the way).

Already, technology reviewers are commenting on the addictiveness of the game, and the huge data gathering and marketing potential that it promises.

But what I have found most compelling while playing Ingress around the streets of Melbourne is the level of real-world social interaction possible. This represents a significant shift in how we experience our relationships with technology and with each other.

Read more at The Conversation…

Taking Action

Taking Action to Challenge Sexism, Inequality and Violence Against Women. Speech given at UN Young Women forum, Melbourne, 22nd October, 2012.

What an interesting time it has been for opening up discussions about violence, inequality and sexism against women in Australia. Debates and commentary in the media, in parliament, in public opinion and out on the streets, have really raised the stakes – as well as the questions: Is Australia Sexist? Is gender inequality still a problem in modern Australia? And, importantly, what can we do about it?

Some of the most high profile and recent examples of sexism, gender inequality and violence against women barely need mentioning.

Last month, radio presenter Alan Jones won the Gold Ernie – an award dedicated to Australia’s most sexist comments – for saying of several female leaders that “women are destroying the joint”.

Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Julia Gillard delivered a speech naming sexism in Australian politics that has sparked debate and made the news worldwide.

And how can I not mention the thousands who marched in honour of Jill Meagher – and against violence against women – in September, and those who marched again on Saturday for Reclaim the Night.

Together these, and other, high profile examples tell us something important about sexism, gender inequality and violence against women in this country.

These examples tell us that sexism, gender inequality and violence against women are still big social issues – and that a lot of Australians want to live in a society where they do not exist.

But these are just some examples and they are not the whole picture; they tell just one part of the story. Read the full speech here

Is Trolling Gendered?

Tuesday night, in classic style, Jenny Brockie hosted a discussion on internet trolling on SBS’ Insight program.  From poking fun, to social commentary, to political activism, to downright abuse and bullying: the full spectrum of behaviours broadly defined as ‘trolling’ were explored.

But contrary to the high moral ground of ‘Weev’ who described trolling as a way of “expressing working class discontent”, some research suggests that trolls often have a more privileged background. According to researcher and guest on the program Whitney Phillips many are male, white, and have the time and economic resources to spend hours baiting people online.

At the same time, women and women’s webspaces and forums appear often to be the targets of trolls. This raises the question: Is trolling gendered? And is it possible or useful to examine the cross-overs between trolling and gender-based harassment or hate speech online?

The motivations of the ‘trolls’
On Insight, ‘Jamie’ defines her trolling as: “basically evoking an emotional reaction out of someone…anyone who takes the bait.”  ‘Steven’ says it “is just a wind-up…it’s just about leading somebody up the garden path…”. ‘Weev’ describes it as ‘a dialogue’.

But all three Trolls agreed that threats of violence crossed the line.

“I don’t think that throwing out a threat of violence can in any way be construed as trolling – that’s just simple bullying. Threats of violence are against the law….that’s not trolling…. Trolling is about a debate. It is a style of confrontational rhetoric…” [Weev].

I tend to agree. Trolling can be sarcastic, annoying, frustrating, cause mass eye-rolling: sometimes it is even harmless fun that becomes a collective cultural phenomenon.  But as soon as the behaviours become targeted abuse at individuals and especially where there are threats of violence – that’s bullying. It is also often in violation of Australian Commonwealth law criminalising the use of a carrier service to menace, harass or cause offence.  But Police appear under-resourced or often unable to act on much of the harassment that occurs online. And who decides what is ‘menacing, harassing and offensive’ anyway?

Gender-based harassment and hate-speech
Facebook has already famously demonstrated that what is considered offensive is highly open to interpretation.  Yet surely there are a few things that as a society we can agree on? We already condemn any form of racial vilification or hate speech; and websites, forums and social media often ban such behaviours in their code of conduct.

So what about sex-based hate speech? Threatening to rape women; publicly posting sexual images or contact details of women without their consent; targeting individual women and women’s websites with pornographic imagery or insults such as ‘dirty whore’ – Should these behaviours be taken more seriously as hate speech?

Others have commented on what appears to be a rise in misogynistic trolling towards women.  Unfortunately, what women consider to be ‘menacing, harassing and offensive’ is not always taken seriously – and often met with the advice to:

“shut your Facebook page, make your Twitter private, don’t engage in a public discussion and you’ll never run into a conversation where I can say something that will hurt your feelings.” [‘Weev’].

Freedom of online speech?
Trolling, including those behaviours that could more accurately be described as online misogyny, is sometimes described as a freedom of speech issue – the practice of democracy – it is people exercising their right to say whatever they like. And any attempt to restrict that freedom is a civil rights infringement and unnecessary censorship. But is that the limit of our understanding of freedom of speech?

In fact, we widely recognise that in the public domain speech is ‘free’ to the extent that it does not impinge on the rights of others: including the right to be free from violence; discrimination on the basis of sex, sexuality, race or ability; and the right to full and equal civic participation.

But harassment, threats and hate speech directed towards anyone of the basis of sex (or sexuality, race, and ability for that matter) are the opposite of freedom of speech, as Professor Michael Fraser describes:

“This in fact is a direct attack on freedom of expression. To bully other people out of the forum so that they are intimidated, and threatened and in fear; so that they can’t express themselves, and if we agree to that only the bullies will be left…”

Indeed. And while there is no doubt that both men and women engage in offensive and inappropriate behaviours online – some research at least, suggests that the bullies that will be left online will be mostly male and privileged – unless we as a society take action to ensure that the freedom of their speech is not prioritised over everyone elses’ equal participation online.

Have you experienced sexist trolling or sex-based hate speech online?

Re-opening the prostitution debate: it’s time to make women safer

France is the latest European country to aim for a “society without prostitution”. The proposal to make it a crime to purchase any sexual service (alongside Sweden, Norway and Iceland) has stimulated public debate regarding the most appropriate legal framework for responding to prostitution.

In Australia, laws governing prostitution vary across the states and territories. From complete decriminalisation (New South Wales), to licensing and regulation of legal brothels (Victoria, Queensland, Australian Capital Territory), to allowing private and escort services but not brothels or street work (Northern Territory and Tasmania), to a primarily criminal approach (South Australia and Western Australia). Given this range of legal experiments affecting the lives of (primarily) women in the sex industry in Australia, it is also time to re-open the prostitution debate here.

Read more on The Conversation…

Sex, power, and the real problem with ‘raunch’

It has been called the ‘Age of Raunch’, ‘Generation Sex’, the age of the S.L.U.T (Sexually Liberated Urban Teen); so-called ‘raunch culture’ is a recurring theme of recent media and public debate.

Raunch culture, or the sexualisation of culture, is of course one part of a whole range of social changes that we’ve seen post the 1970s ‘sexual revolution’, and certainly many of those changes have been positive.

They’ve been associated with greater access to information about sexual health for example, and a somewhat greater acceptance of diverse sexualities. We can certainly talk more openly about sexual issues now than perhaps we could several decades ago.

Indeed, many claim raunch culture is itself representative of women’s newfound sexual freedom; evidence that the equality feminism fought for has been achieved.

In our current culture, everything about raunch – we’re told – is empowering for women. Stripping is empowering for women; pornography is empowering; exposing one’s naked body in public à la Lady Gaga is empowering; female elite athletes’ posing nude for FHM and Sports Illustrated magazine is, again, empowering.  All of these examples, we’re told, show women that they can be comfortable in their bodies and with their sexuality.

Engaging in raunch is taken to prove that you are liberated. After all, isn’t enjoying this new sexual freedom what women’s equality has been all about?

There is however another interpretation of raunch culture as a kind of ‘faux empowerment’ or ‘the new sexism’, and the emphasis on so-called liberation, on ‘free choice’, is part of its allure.

Read more at The Scavenger…