Academic journal article Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

Configuring Consent: Emerging Technologies, Unauthorised Sexual Images and Sexual Assault

Academic journal article Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

Configuring Consent: Emerging Technologies, Unauthorised Sexual Images and Sexual Assault

Article excerpt

Contemporary teens and young adults, often collectively referred to as the .NET generation or the digital generation, represent the largest proportion of end-users in the information and communication technologies market (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2007; Australian Communications and Media Authority [ACMA], 2007, 2008).While there is much written concerning the rise in pornographic and other sexual material via the internet and mobile phones there is comparatively little published work regarding the use of information and communication technologies for the distribution of unauthorised sexual images, more particularly, where a sexual assault has occurred. This article considers the issues raised by the use of information and communication technologies in sexual violence and the distribution of unauthorised sexual images. The implications of this emerging issue are considered in light of existing and potential legislative frameworks.

Keywords: sexual violence, young people, technology

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The burgeoning development and use of information and communication technologies, or ICTs, is an increasingly evident feature of contemporary life. In particular, technologies such as mobile phones, social networking websites such as Facebook[R] and MySpace[TM], personal blogs and video posting websites including YouTube[TM] are ever-expanding, with young people (aged 14 to 34) representing the greatest proportion of this consumer market (ACMA, 2008). Indeed, technology has arguably emerged as a key medium facilitating the (re)production of selves and identities, including sexual identities, in late-modem societies (Hall, 2000; Ho, 2003). There is already a well-known association between the expansion of ICTs and the simultaneous access to, and indeed expansion of, pornographic and amateur sexual imagery (see Barton & Kimmel, 2000). However, while there is much written concerning the rise in pornographic and other sexual material, via the internet and mobile phones, there is comparatively little published work regarding the use of ICTs for the distribution of unauthorised sexual images, more particularly, where a sexual assault has occurred.

Public discussions over the last few years regarding the use of emerging ICTs to violate privacy and procure unauthorised sexual images and video have been largely concerned with voyeurism and the violation of privacy in public space, such as 'upskirting' and 'downblousing' (Bell, Hemmens, & Steiner, 2006). These practices have, in the Australian context, already been subject to extensive legislative definition and reform with the result of several new offences with clear penalties (e.g., Summary Offences Amendment [Upskirting] Act 2007, Vic). By framing the issue as one of privacy violation, mainstream media and indeed legal discussions have largely taken place at a relative distance from the broader issues of gender and sexual violence. However, recent cases of sexual assaults of young women and girls being recorded and distributed, such as the 'Werribee DVD' in Melbourne in 2006, have undeniably blurred any neat categorisation between 'voyeurism'-related offences on the one hand and 'sexual violence' on another.

This article considers the issues raised by the use of information and communication technologies in sexual violence and the distribution of unauthorised sexual images. In particular, rather than viewing the use of emerging ICTs as representing an extension on video voyeurism or indeed as a driver of sexual violence, it is argued that this issue must be considered in light of a continuum of sexual violence. This is not to undermine the importance of securing justice and support for victims regarding the original sexual assault, but rather emphasises the continued assault on the victim where an image is recorded and distributed; a practice that has been facilitated by advancements in ICTs. It might also be argued that the unauthorised taking and distribution of images of an otherwise consensual sexual encounter is similarly part of a continuum of gendered sexual violence and harassment targeting primarily women, where the distribution is itself a violation of an individual's sexual autonomy with the effect of humiliating, intimidating or otherwise harassing the victim. …

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