18 August 2016

Boys, trading nude photos without consent is a crime.

Author :

I can't believe anyone has to say this. Boys, trading nude photos of women (and under age girls) without their consent is a crime. 

While Australian's grapple with the undeniable need for better policies surrounding reducing domestic violence how do we, as a nation, address the forever rising incidences of domestic violence and sex assault?

Yesterday media organisation news.com.au broke the horrific story of a website dedicated to swapping and buying nude photographs of high school girls. 

The unnamed website has been repeatedly reported to Australian authorities, however as it is hosted overseas the police have been quoted as saying "there is nothing they can do about it."

The site is believed to cover more than 70 Australian high schools from across the country, with the sites users posting requests for nude images of various young women. The site, according to the news article, contains thousands of images ranging from close up nude photos to images of young high school girls engaging in sexual conduct. Most of the young women who are on the site have no idea they are even being featured. 

This latest scandal follows the recent Melbourne Grammar Video scandal, which showed a Year 12 student instructing his peers not to choose any girl under a rating of 7 to be their date at a school formal. The casual sexism of the video drew condemnation from Melbourne Grammar Alumni including prominent Barrister and Human-Rights advocate Julian Burnside.

"Bad behaviour by kids at school is not something uncommon and is not something new." he was quoted as saying at the time. "But if we think we treat women equally in Australia we're simply deluding ourselves."

Sadly, neither of these two situations are alone. In another shocking revelation from The AGE, Brighton Grammar - another exclusive private school in Victoria - came under fire for an Instagram account that had been set up by students to invite them to vote for the "Slut of the Year." The Instagram account, which led to two Year 11 students being expelled, featured images of girls (the youngest being only 11 years of age) without their consent.

The Instagram account, which was deleted, it is currently under investigation by the Police and the school moved to reassure the community it was addressing the issue.

"The posting of last Friday is anathema to everything we stand for at Brighton Grammar, however, given it happened I have contacted one of Australia's leading cyber educators and plan to meet with her very soon to review our current programs of educating the boys and provide guidance to parents on matters relevant to social media and the online world," said Brighton Grammar Headmaster Ross Featherstone at the time of the incident.

The Mother of one of the young girls first raised the situation when it came to her attention her daughter (who is in Grade 6) was featured on the Instagram account. The mother said it wasn't an isolated incident and she had screen shots of numerous offensive messages the same boys sent to other young girls in the past. 

At the root of the issue is the casual sexism and misogyny inherent in the Australian population. As I wrote in a recent article on this blog, it is not all men. It is not all families. But frankly, that means nothing. If you dismiss this sort of issue as "them" not "us" you are a as culpable of the long-term damage as those who perpetrate it.

What is becoming of our country when a young girl who is in Year 6 can't walk home from school without someone taking photos of her and posting her image on an Instagram account labeling her a candidate for Slut of the Year?

What is becoming of our country when young women can't attend High School without having men paying others to hunt down naked photos of them and having those moments posted on the internet without thought of the consequences?

In an article yesterday about the latest website scandal, the paper quoted young women who had found themselves on the sight asking for their images to be removed, only to have the male posters directly blaming the victims for being "sluts". Erasing images from the internet is a next to impossible task. 

In a follow up article yesterday, Australian National University cyber-crime expert Roderic Broadhurst said it's often impossible to get the photos offline or catch those behind the sites.

"There's no control, no guarantee of getting them (the images) back. These young women possibly have to live with the fact these images are out there forever."

Cold comfort indeed, to the more than 2000 young girls from the 70+ schools featured in yesterday's article. 

The Australian Federal Police is currently investigating the website with both their local and international law enforcement partners to "evaluate this matter and determine an appropriate course of action."

This is not another case of "boys will be boys." This is heinous violation of the privacy of these young women. Their photographs are posted without their permission, their bodies suddenly available to anyone with a mouse and a lap top. 

Given the ages of High School girls in Australia, this is also Child Pornography. 

"It is important to note that creating, accessing or distributing child pornography is a serious offence, even if you are child yourself," an AFP spokeswoman told Fairfax Media yesterday.

"Child pornography offences have a maximum penalty of 15 years' imprisonment."

It is time that the Australian public drew a line in the sand.

This behaviour is unacceptable. It is time we as a nation demanded policy makers, governments, educators and parents stepped up to the plate and taught their sons what respect means.

If we, as a nation, continue to allow things like this to slide with a sigh, or a weary shake of the head, then all the talk in the world about stopping domestic violence and treating women equally will be for nothing.

Are we as a nation willing to sit back and watch another generation of domestic abusers get their first taste of dehumanising women?

Would these same boys be as amused if the photographs were of their mothers, sisters or nieces?

Would these same boys be as amused if the roles were reversed and it was their nude images being shared without their consent for anyone on the internet to find?

It's not a difficult concept and those whose primary responsibility is the education of the next generation (both teachers and parents) need to start doing more, and need to start teaching that all actions have consequences. 

Mike Cullen has recently returned to Akolade after a period as the conference producer for one of Australia's leading economic think tanks. Mike began working in the conference industry in 2007 after looking for a career change from the high pressured world of inbound customer service. Mike has worked for some of the most well-known conference and media companies in the B2B space and in his spare time is working on his first novel in a planned Epic Fantasy trilogy.

Mike’s most recently published story, Seeds of Eden, is featured in the Sproutlings Anthology released in March 2016. Mike is also editing the Anthology – Community: Tales of the LGBTI scheduled for release in June 2017.

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