OPINION: The pressure to become a sexual object in the digital realm is immense. This feminist believes beauty, wisdom and the healthy expression of sexuality is all within reach.
By
Ella Noah Bancroft

1 Aug 2019 - 5:09 PM  UPDATED 1 Aug 2019 - 5:09 PM

We are living in a new paradigm; it's a digital world where your social media posts can live forever on the internet and you might never know where your images will end up. 

So how can we protect ourselves and others from this world where boundaries are blurry and morals can be compromised all at the click of a button? It makes me wonder if every time I sent an image to another person, what would happen, and how would I feel, if that private image went public? 

We need to protect ourselves. Firstly, by ensuring we make the right decisions. 

The considerations are at the heart of SBS's new four-part series ‘The Hunting’, which explores image-based abuse. 

 

Image-based abuse occurs when intimate or sexual photos or videos are shared online, without consent. This new television drama looks into the lives of four teenagers, living in this modern world as they explore sexuality and relationships, along with the complexities of technology. 

I am not one to discourage young adults from taking provocative photos, as long as they feel empowered in their bodies and have clear intentions around why are they are doing it. 

If teenagers want to explore empowerment through creating sensual images, I see no harm, as long as they are doing it for themselves.  

Sadly, this is not always the case and too often young people, especially women, feel pressured to take nude selfies for the sake of the recipient on the other end. According to a recent study by eSafety Commissioner, 1 in 2 felt pressured into taking nude selfies and then experience image-based abuse.

When we send intimate images to lovers or friends, by-and-large we are expecting that it is for their eyes only, we create a vulnerable place within us and when that trust is broken and those images are exposed to the public we are hurt and become victims. We must look to remove the victim mentality by taking accountability of our actions, and understand that our decisions determine our future.


'The Hunting' is sparking a new conversation about our modern world, about online relating and technology tied in with sexuality.  Due to the lack of infrastructure online in this relatively new world, I believe the key to our hard won happiness is self-accountability. As such, we need to start really feeling what our actions in this space could lead to, if for instance, you sent that photo to your boss or parents. Would you be proud for them to see you in that way? And if not, perhaps we should be asking the question - should I send this at all?  

These are pressing issues of our time, they are changing as fast as the technology we use and we need to keep up our social structures to ensure protection. With the right education we can help to create community again and with community comes respect. 

The problem with the internet is that people become faceless, they are dehumanised and therefore easier to hurt.

Everything seems so instantaneous nowadays, everyone has a camera and video camera in their back pocket at any time, so what are the new ways we can implement privacy in our realities and regain our autonomy. 

Teenagers are at the highest risk of image abuse because they are sexually curious and can be impulsive with their decisions. 

These young women and men are sending private messages to one another and then when the circumstances change, such as a breakup or argument occurs, those subjects become victims to image abuse. 

When privacy is broken and trust is lost, the damage can be highly detrimental, particularly during the formative teenage years when one's image, strength and self-worth is being built.

We must start to look deeply at the idea of shame and why and where we feel the most amount of shame? 

For years woman have been told to cover up, they have been shamed for their blood and their bodies. But is the shame ours or is it the collective societies?

Here we must find our own truth, this happens by really sitting in our integrity and finding our own morals. 

In a survey conducted in 2016-17 on image abuse, the eSafety Commissioner estimated 400 complaints concerning image-based abuse where made mostly by women, aged between the ages of 18-35. Mostly women. 

Key findings of the report found one in 10 adult Australians have experienced their nude/sexual image being shared without consent, and almost one-fifth have been bystanders to image-based abuse. 

Certain segments of the Australian population are more likely to be targets of image-based abuse, including younger adults, women, Indigenous Australians and LGBTI community members. 

We know, one in five women aged 18-45 has experienced their nude/sexual image being shared without consent. Women also seem to be a greater risk due to the societal pressures and the sexualisation of the female form and expectations to perform. How have we placed pressure on our young teenage women to perform and gain love?

Our society needs to stand up and see the way we teach our young women about the world, with sexualised images paraded on billboards and through magazines, is this the measure of beauty?

I think its time to desexualise the female body, give women back their beauty by realising that their body is natural and they do not always have to be sexual. 

Most of the nudes I post are non-sexual, they are expressions of the natural body in the natural world, trying to spread the remembering of where we once came from.  I will not apologise for my body.

Woman are multifaceted creations, we must remember we do not always have to perform to be the sexy woman. 

Women are twice as likely to have their nude/sexual images shared without consent than men, women are more likely to experience image-based abuse at the hands of a former intimate partner than men, women are considerably more likely to report negative personal impacts as a result of image-based abuse and women experience more threatening behaviours on the internet then men.  

It seems clear that perhaps we need to instil respect and reverence in the minds of the men in our societies towards our women.

Evidence also shows that Indigenous women are twice as likely to have experienced image-based abuse in comparison with non-Indigenous Australians. 

If we are going to protect our young adults and women, we need to create a society that values the self-worth of these individuals. The lack of understanding that these teens and women have about their sexual bodies is resulting in unhealthy expressions on and off the web.  

I feel like we have introduced a new way of living without actually setting up rules and structures to be put in place to ensure people do not get hurt while we are all indulging in technology and social platforms.

We have a social responsibility to start these conversations and to educate these young adults in school about the risks of engaging in this type of communication. 

We must help to lift our young women up, to stop sexualising their bodies in advertising and to encourage them to see their inner beauty and power. I want to express that each woman carries with her wisdom and beauty that emanates from inside. 

If we can begin to move away from the superficial, external forms of beauty and instead create substance in our inner world, perhaps we can live in a less harmful way to each other and ourselves. 

 

Ella Noah Bancroft is a Bundjalung artist and writer from the Djanbun clan. Follow her on Instagram @ellanoahbancroft_

The Hunting premieres on Thursday, August 1 at 8:30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand, and airs over four weeks.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800737732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au

Parents and teachers looking for more information can visit the eSafety Commissioner website and SBS Learn.