ONE-in-five people have been the victims of “revenge porn”, used to control, abuse or humiliate them, according to Australia’s largest study of image-based abuse.

The most common types of abuse were the taking of sexual or nude images without consent (20 per cent), distributing images without consent (11 per cent), and threatening to share images (9 per cent). And men are just as likely as women to be victims of image-based abuse, the survey showed.

Researchers, who studied 4200 people, warned there may be many more victims unaware their image had been taken and distributed.

Lead researcher Dr Nicola Henry from RMIT University said the law was struggling to catch up with such widespread abuse. “This isn’t just about ‘revenge porn’ — images are being used to control, abuse and humiliate people in ways that go well beyond the ‘relationship gone sour’ scenario,” she said.

Dr Henry said the survey also revealed the “severe and serious” psychological impact on victims when their images were used in what has been dubbed “sextortion”.

Nearly half of those targeted with “sextortion” (46 per cent) said they felt “highly fearful for their safety”.

Among victims threatened with distribution of nude or semi-nude images “80 per cent recorded high levels of psychological distress consistent with moderate to severe depression or anxiety disorder,” Dr Henry said.

If the images had been distributed, 75 per cent of victims experienced “high levels of distress”, she said.

Young people aged 16 to 29 were most likely to have had at least one instance of image-based abuse, with one-in-three people aged 16 to 19, and one-in-four aged 20 to 29, reporting at least one form of “image victimisation”.

Males (23 per cent) and females (22 per cent) were almost equally likely to be targeted by non-consensual photo sharing — and most were taken by people known to the victims.

The survey shows those with a disability, from indigenous backgrounds, and those who are gay or bisexual are more likely to be victims.

Dr Henry said online demand was high for non-consensual sexual imagery.

Researchers recommend a dedicated “revenge porn” helpline and a federal law making image-based abuse a crime.

wendy.tuohy@news.com.au