New Zealand's problem with 'image-based sexual abuse' worse than ever

New Zealand's problem with 'revenge porn' is worse than ever.

Netsafe says around 300,000 Kiwis have had intimate images or recordings shared without their permission.

It's content that often goes viral - posted to social media or one of the more than 3000 websites dedicated to 'revenge porn'.

More than a third of victims (33 percent) are under 30 with one agency helping people as young as 12.

But advocacy groups say the problem isn't just the 'revenge porn' itself, it's also the stigma surrounding it.

They say people need to call it what it is: 'image-based sexual abuse'. 

'Katie' had never taken or sent nude photos before but says her new boyfriend made her feel safe. He said they were for his eyes - only until suddenly, they weren't.

"One morning I got a phone call from my friend who lives in Australia and she said to me, 'I've just been sent a link and there are naked photos of you all over it'," she says.

"I just couldn't function. I was on the floor crying, incoherent in shock."

Her images were posted on social networking website Tumblr - but that was just the tip of the iceberg.

"I was all over dating websites, multiple pornography websites, there was profile after profile after profile in false names made up on Facebook," Katie says.

And with it came feelings of guilt and shame.

"I think people are often embarrassed to come forward and report, they worry about having to disclose that they created the imagery in the first place - let alone that someone's later sharing it," Netsafe CEO Martin Cocker says.

This means people often struggle to speak up.

Netsafe's latest population survey found 6 percent of Kiwis or 300,000 of us have had an intimate image shared without permission. But only 861 incidents were reported to Netsafe between November 2016 and June this year.

"There are other places people can go for assistance, so we can't say that everybody who needs help would come to Netsafe," Cocker says.

"But clearly hundreds of thousands of people are not going and getting support to have images removed or prosecutions taken."

Women's Refuge agrees the problem is significantly under-reported.

"The ease with which you can actually distribute images and videos, it's inevitably getting worse," CEO Ang Jury says.

It's believed stigma and victim-blaming are fuelling a culture of silence and most agencies say even the term 'revenge porn' is causing harm.

"An image or a video that's distributed for a particular purpose, which is to hurt the person whose image is going out there - that's not porn. That's a weapon," Jury says.

It's a weapon often used in abusive relationships. Just like 'Katie', 40 percent of victims had intimate content shared by an ex-partner either to control them, blackmail them or 'punish them' for leaving the relationship.

"Family violence works across a continuum of any number of different harms, and this is just another particularly nasty version," Jury says.

And while most see it as an 'adult problem', 'image-based sexual abuse' is also affecting our kids. Karla Sanders runs anti-bullying organisation Sticks and Stones.

"Four or five years ago we were working with 15 and 16-year-olds. In the past two years we were working with 12 and 13 and 14-year-olds," she tells Newshub.

She says only 10-15 percent of young people actually share nude images but there's a common belief that "everyone does it".

That, coupled with the hypersexualised world of reality TV and 'Instagram models', only adds to the pressure.

"It's used more in that courting process - 'I want someone to like me, so if they ask me to send this then they'll think that I'm immature or I'm not cool if I don't send it'," Sanders says.

But it's a momentary action that often causes a lifetime of pain.

"It's the stories that go around about 'that girl' or 'that boy' and about what's wrong with them and how could they be so stupid," Sanders says.

"And then the shame and stigma that not only comes from their peers but comes from their teachers and it comes from their parents."

Sanders believes schools and teachers aren't equipped to deal with victims. She says it's time to start properly educating our kids about the risks.

"So that the blame doesn't always lie with the person who has sent the image but the blame also lies with the person who's chosen to share that," she says.

Encouraging a voice for victims who've been silenced by stigma.

Where to find help and support:

  • Netsafe - 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723)
  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)