What’s the difference between sexting and image-based abuse?


Sexting and image-based abuse are not the same thing.

There’s a continuum from sexting as a mutually agreed act, to feeling pressured by an intimate partner or peers to sext, through to image-based abuse.

Sexting is the consensual sharing of sexually explicit text messages, images and videos with another person.

Sharing ‘nudes’ or ‘pics’ is a common part of the modern romantic and sexual script for many young people. Sexting is the digital extension of young people’s sexual relationships. Fifty-two percent of young people aged 16 to 19 years report voluntarily sending a sexual image of themselves at least once.¹

The approach we apply to supporting young people to safely and respectfully engage in intimate ‘real-world’ relationships also applies to sexting. Just like in young people’s face-to-face romantic and sexual relationships, the harms associated with sexting can be largely mitigated by supporting young people to be consensual, safe, respectful and act in accordance with the law.

Young people have varying experiences with, and views on, sexting. Work with young people on this topic must ensure all young people feel that their perspective and experience is valid and valuable.

Image-based abuse is different to consensual sexting. It involves:

  • distributing nude or sexual images, without the consent of the subject;
  • non-consensual taking/making of nude or sexual images; or
  • threatening to share nude or sexual images, against someone’s wishes. ³

Unfortunately, image-based abuse is common.

  • One in three 16 to 19-year-olds report experiencing at least one form of image-based abuse. ⁴
  • Perpetrators of image-based abuse are most likely to be male and known to the victim. ⁵
  • As is the case with other types of violence, women are more likely than men to fear for their safety because of experiencing image-based abuse. ⁶
  • Image-based abuse victimisation is higher for lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians, and Australians with disability (one in two people with disability reported being a victim of image-based abuse). ⁷
  • 47% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reported a nude or sexual image had been taken without their consent, compared with 19% of non-indigenous people. ⁸

It is important to address the issue of image-based abuse within the broader context of promoting positive, equal and respectful relationships and preventing violence against women. It is also important to check your State or Territory’s legislation on sexting and image-based abuse, as well as your organisation’s relevant policies and position, before talking to young people about these issues.

To understand more about when sexting is a cause for concern, read: Sexting and gender inequality.

For more on promoting online safety among young people, you may wish to review these resources from the eSafety Commission.


¹ ³ ⁴ ⁵ ⁶ ⁷ ⁸ Henry, N., Powell, A. & Flynn, A. 2017.Not Just ‘Revenge Pornography’: Australians’ Experiences of Image-Based Abuse. A Summary Report. Melbourne: RMIT University, p. 5-7

² Timothy H Yeung, Danielle R Horyniak, Alyce M vella, Margaret E Hellard and Megan Lim, ‘Prevalence, correlates and attitudes towards sexting among young people in Melbourne, Australia’ (2014) Sexual Health 11, 335.

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