‘Emotionally disturbing’ - Revenge porn victim’s battle for justice

“It’s very emotionally disturbing to have your body put online like that. It’s caused a lot of trauma, I was diagnosed with PTSD from it.”

This article contains discussions of sexual activity and a reference to suicide that may disturb some readers.

A single video of a sexual encounter involving Emma* was published hundreds of times without her knowledge or consent on different websites, through different accounts, under different and often disturbing titles.

But the man who uploaded the videos wasn't charged under the Harmful Digital Communications Act (HDCA). Emma says he claimed the videos, which he was making money from, weren't intended to cause her harm - and just like that, the cyber abuse law was stymied.

***

This story begins in 2018. Emma was under 20 years old, fresh out of a relationship, when she matched with a man on Tinder.

He painted himself as a professional. He convinced her to meet up.

On that fateful day she was driven to a location out of town, something she says "weirded me out".

"I noticed there was an iPad there and I remember looking at it and thinking, 'What is he trying to do, is he trying to take photos?' It did come into my mind. That was really dumb of me and I wish I had stood up for myself then.

"I replay it in my head and I wish I said, 'I want to go home.' But I was driven there, in the middle of nowhere. There's a few moments [in the video] we can see that I'm really uncomfortable."

That iPad was a sticking point for the police - did Emma know she was being filmed? She's adamant he never asked for consent, and she never gave it.

"I replay it in my head and I wish I said I want to go home."

This meant police couldn't take action under the Crimes Act. With the HDCA loophole around publishing for commercial gain, it meant Emma's case was dropped entirely.

She says that section of the law is "pretty much useless". "How can you prove you weren't aware [it was filming]?" she asks.

It meant the Crimes Act charges were withdrawn, even though she says he didn't ask her if he could record it.

"It's really important because then the victim is reliant on the HDCA."

When she found out the video existed, she asked him to delete it. Desperate, she told him she was 17 at the time. It was a lie, but one she hoped would force him to delete the video as child exploitation material.

He didn't delete the video.

***

Months passed. It was 4am when Emma received a text. Someone had found that intimate recording online. There were hundreds of copies on the world's biggest pornography websites, including Pornhub.

Her body was not only being shared without her knowledge or consent, but sold, with profits going to the man who filmed it.

"The only reason I know is because someone told me. If that wasn't the case, I would have no idea."

Emma says there were an "insane" number of uploads. On one website she found more than 20 accounts created by the man, including one named 'Harvey Weinstein', after the disgraced Hollywood mogul.

"I found even more and he would make compilations that would be other videos, other girls, five seconds would be of me and then other videos of other girls.

"I had to go painstakingly through these videos because sometimes Pornhub wouldn't delete that account, you'd have to go through and get the videos deleted."

"I replay it in my head and I wish I said I want to go home."

That same day, Emma went to the police. He was arrested and charged under the Crimes Act. He pleaded guilty.

Then he recanted that guilty plea, claiming ineffectual counsel. The iPad, and whether Emma knew it was filming, became the centre of discussion. The prosecutor dropped the charges.

Police had already told Emma charges couldn't be laid under the HDCA. That would require intent to cause harm with the upload, which couldn't be proven.

With the Crimes Act charges failing, Emma was left with no way to get justice.

"I can live to 100 and I can never be sure if someone has it or someone's going to use it against me."

She feels police failed her.

"I feel like they don't understand the severity of the impact that has on the person. I remember them saying to me, 'Oh, I don't feel like this video will affect you at all in the future,' but you don't know that, because someone could have downloaded it.

"I can live to 100 and I can never be sure if someone has it or someone's going to use it against me."

"They didn't find the video on his hard drive so obviously he's on the cloud, and he could be selling that via direct messages or anything like that. I feel like [police] didn't really have an understanding of the technology in terms of non-typical pornography and some of the websites in general or the internet."

Even after his arrest, Emma believes the man continued uploading pornographic videos - not of her, but of other women. "Police did nothing but send a stern warning."

Emma has provided 1News photographic evidence she says shows the man is stalking her. Again, Emma says police shrugged her off.

"Just gut-wrenching and disappointing. I'll be honest there have been times I've thought about taking my own life because just, the trauma of having to see yourself put online like that, and your own body, in a way that you did not consent, is just so sickening."

Where to get help.

***

On Wednesday night, Louisa Wall's amendment to the HDCA has its third and final reading. With cross-party support, it's expected to pass.

The Labour MP says hearing stories like Emma's is heartbreaking.

"There have been so many stories, so many women sharing these abuse experiences and feeling so helpless and powerless," she told 1News.

The amendment means victims only have to state they didn't consent to the material being shared. They will no longer have to prove intent to harm or that harm was caused.

As it stands the act "allowed abusers to escape punishment", Wall says.

"That's why this bill is so important. It gives women the legal tools to speak up, to be heard and for abusers to be punished."

***

Despite the hurdles, Emma is determined to keep fighting for justice. While the law change comes too late for her, it will help others.

"Knowing how traumatic it can be, if there's a bunch of people out in society that could be victim to this, their lives will be derailed from it," she says.

"So it's very, very important to keep fighting for the potential victims."

"I think it will make a huge difference… getting to have your word in court and know that this is a crime and that it's not your fault."

Wall has her own message of support.

"To women survivors and victims of image-based sexual abuse: I salute you and thank you for using your voices in spite of a law that was insufficient.

"You didn't stop shouting and screaming for the abuse to stop. Our Parliament has heard you and our voices can continue to not only punish abusers, it can change the culture of sexual abuse in our country."

Emma still wishes the man could have been prosecuted - but not because she wants to see him in jail.

"Oh my gosh, the closure it would bring me if I was able to do a victim impact statement," she says.

"He wouldn't have gone to prison anyway. But even if he… had a criminal record and I was able to do a victim impact statement, that would have meant so much to me. It would have brought such closure to my life.

"I think it will make a huge difference - getting to have your word in court and know that this is a crime and that it's not your fault."

For Emma, this is key.

"Saying it's not your fault is really important because victims of sexual crimes, whether it's non-consensual pornography or whatever, you often feel ways to blame yourself, things you could have done differently to avoid this. And it's not your fault."

Police declined to comment when contacted by 1News, a spokesperson saying they "would note that we are only able to enforce the laws as they stand".

They added it would be "inappropriate" for police to comment on the HDCA amendment before the bill was passed.

*Name has been changed to protect her identity.

News tip or more information? Email Breanna Barraclough or follow @brebarra