The Challenges of Policing Image-Based Sexual Abuse

Dr Asher Flynn3
3Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

Abstract:  Image-based sexual abuse (IBSA) refers to the non-consensual recording, distribution, or threat of distribution, of nude or sexual images. In the last few years, numerous jurisdictions have amended their criminal laws to respond more effectively to this growing phenomenon, yet increased criminalisation has not automatically translated into increased prosecutions. This paper examines the challenges faced by law enforcement in responding to IBSA drawing on stakeholder interviews with 49 legal and policy experts, domestic and sexual violence advocates, industry representatives, police and academics across Australia. In reflecting on the voices of these stakeholders, this paper argues that although there is evidence to suggest IBSA is being treated more seriously by law enforcement, there are key barriers to responding to this problem, including: a patchwork of inconsistent laws; limited resources; evidentiary limitations; jurisdictional restrictions; and victim-blaming attitudes. Recent research similarly reveals such problems are not exclusive to Australia, and are being felt in other locations where IBSA laws exist including England and Wales and Scotland (see Bond & Tyrrell forthcoming; see also Green 2018). Suggestions are made for how to respond to these challenges to facilitate more effective policing of IBSA.


Dr Asher Flynn is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Director of the Social and Political Sciences Graduate Research Program at Monash University, Australia. Asher’s research utilises a socio-legal framework to understand, critique and transform legal policy and practice, with a particular focus on gendered violence. Asher is Co-Investigator on an Australian Research Council Discovery Project examining image-based sexual abuse across Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand (with Associate Professors Nicola Henry and Anastasia Powell, and Professors Clare McGlynn, Erika Rackley and Nicola Gavey). She has published widely on sexual violence, technology-facilitated abuse, access to justice and plea negotiations.


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