Tougher laws needed against online abuse: Oz study

Melbourne, Nov 14 (IANS) Three in five Australians have been the target of online harassment and abuse with women and young adults being the softest targets, an RMIT University study reveals.

Women and young adults are most likely to report being sexually harassed online, while one in 10 adults said someone had shared a nude or semi-nude image of them without their consent, the study found.

Lead researcher Anastasia Powell said the findings indicate that new laws were needed to deal with online abuse.

“That one in 10 Australian men and women have had a revealing image distributed without their permission is highly significant,” Powell said.

“It is clear that image-based sexual exploitation and abuse of adults, sometimes referred to as ‘revenge pornography’, is an important issue. We need uniform laws to deal with people who share images without consent,” Powell stressed.

The study found that victims of online harassment and abuse are both male and female, with women twice as likely to be targeted by male offenders and men also twice as likely to be the perpetrators of digital abuse.

More than name-calling or offensive remarks, Powell said digital abuse included sexual harassment, threats and cyber stalking.

The researchers surveyed 3,000 Australian adults aged 18-54 on their use of technology and their experiences with harassment and abuse.

They also interviewed 30 experts in law enforcement, legal services and sexual and domestic support services.

“These interviews revealed how perpetrators of domestic violence use the threat and distribution of nude or sexual images as a means to abuse, exploit, and control their victims,” Powell said.

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