• There has been an alarming global increase in image-based abuse during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Cyberbullying, revenge porn and sextortion are among the top categories of abuse.
  • In this article, Robyn Farrell shares tips to avoid becoming a victim, what to do if you are targeted and outline how perpetrators can be brought to book.

In Australia, image-based abuse has more than tripled. According to Australia's eSafety Commissioner, 1 000 reports were processed between March and May 2020.  

In the UK, the state-funded Revenge Porn Helpline reports opening about 250 cases in April - a spike of about double the number of cases compared to the same time last year.

In South Africa, social media expert Emma Sadleir of the Digital Law Company says she has been inundated with complaints about sextortion during the lockdown. 

READ MORE: How photos, voice and video clips may be manipulated to seem real, plus women targeted for deepfake porn

1st for Women Insurance recently launched a cyberbullying insurance product and identified the following categories of image-based abuse: 

• Cyberbullying: The use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature. This is most common among schoolchildren as they increasingly use social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. 

• Revenge porn: When someone, usually a former partner, maliciously shares naked, nude or sexually explicit photos of you without your permission. The images or videos can be distributed via social media, text messages, emails or even uploaded onto pornographic websites. The intention is usually to humiliate you.

• Sextortion: Images of attractive men or women are used to lure victims to carry out sexually explicit acts, such as posing for nude photographs or performing sexual acts in front of a webcam. These images or videos are then used to blackmail the victim with the threat of public exposure.

READ MORE: Actress Amber Heard opens up about the notorious 'celebrity hack' incident, plus how SA protects victims of revenge porn

The increase is likely due to the global uptick in the use of digital communication during lockdown. 

"Everything is happening online. People are home and bored, so many are willing to send pictures," says Sadleir.  

What you can do

Mike Bolhuis of Specialised Security Services says sextortion is a "low risk" way to make money or extort sexual favours from victims.

"Most extortionists get away with the crime because the victims are often worried about reporting these offences to the police because they are embarrassed," he adds. 

READ MORE: Revenge porn is officially illegal in SA, culprits could face a R300 000 fine and 4 years in prison - here's how other countries compare

Farrell offers the following advice if you are a victim of online abuse: 

1. Make a record of what has been posted online or distributed. Take screenshots if you can, as these can be used as evidence later. Your records should include the date of occurrence; what happened;  evidence that it happened; who you think did it; evidence that they did it, and evidence you still need and information on who might have it. When you are compiling your records include screen shots of web pages that include visible URLs, printouts, text messages that show names and specific dates and times, PDFs, voicemails, and anything else that you would be comfortable with in a court of law. Make copies of everything.·       

2. File a police report.

3. File a report of the incident to the administrators on the relevant platform, such as Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. Send the company a copy of your police report to get things moving faster. 

4. Consult an attorney.

READ MORE: A woman shares how she found out her naked pictures were leaked online, plus, here’s how men trade explicit images of women on underground channels

Severe fines and jail time

Revenge porn is officially a crime in South Africa and is governed by the Films and Publications Amendment Act of 2019, which imposes severe fines and jail time if you:

- Knowingly distribute private sexual photographs or films without the prior consent of any individual featured.

- Share these types of photos publicly with the intention to cause harm or distress.

- Upload private sexual photographs where the person can be clearly identified or is named in any accompanying text.

Farrell said: "It's important for victims to know that image-based abuse is a crime and the victim is never to blame - the fault lies completely with the perpetrator."

Have you been a victim of cyber abuse? Share your story with us here.

Robyn Farrell is the CEO of 1st for Women Insurance which recently launched a cyberbullying insurance product.

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