abuse: A snapshot of
New Zealand adults’
PREPARED BY DR EDGAR PACHECO, NEIL
MELHUISH AND JANDY FISKE
What is this about?
This snapshot report presents findings from a
larger quantitative study about New Zealand
adults’ experiences of harmful digital
communications. The report focuses on the
prevalence of image-based sexual abuse
(IBSA), and people’s attitudes regarding
different aspects of it. The findings described
in this report are based on data collected from
a nationally representative sample.
New Zealanders actively embrace digital
technologies to support a range of activities
from shopping and socialising to searching for
information (Pacheco & Melhuish, 2018).
Despite the opportunities and benefits,
technology use (and misuse) also brings risks
and challenges that could potentially result in
distress and harm. In 2017 a Netsafe study
found, for example, that a third of adult New
Zealanders experienced an unwanted digital
in the prior year and, what is
more, 9% reported being negatively affected
by them (see Pacheco & Melhuish, 2018).
Unwanted digital communications include a range of unsolicited online experience(s) that might or might not cause distress and/or harm
to the person who deals with it (e.g. spam, seeing inappropriate content, having rumours spread about oneself, being threatened).
Summary of findings
• Overall, nearly 5% of adult New Zealanders
said they have personally experienced
image-based sexual abuse (IBSA) online.
• IBSA is more common among young
adults, especially those aged under 30.
• In general, men and women were equally
as likely to experience IBSA online, but the
nature of the experiences differ.
• About 4% had someone threaten to share
their intimate pictures or videos online. This
was more common among those under 30
• Meanwhile, 3% said their intimate content
has actually been shared online. This was
o females aged 18-29
o those who do not identify as
o those who identify as Asian
• The sharing of intimate content online
without consent was most commonly done
by an ex-partner or by a stranger.
• Perceived reasons for IBSA vary, with
females indicating it is done for revenge
while males say it is intended as a joke or
used for extortion.
• 7 in 10 adult New Zealanders agree that
those in a relationship should be aware of
the risks associated with sharing intimate
pictures with a partner.
• People generally lack knowledge of how
the law treats cases of IBSA or where to
get advice to avoid becoming a target.
• A small majority disagree that the risks of
IBSA are overstated.
Among the different risks and challenges
people can experience online are incidents
related to IBSA
, an umbrella term that
encompasses a range of overlapping
behaviours and experiences – from
“upskirting”, “sextortion”, and recording of
sexual assaults to “sexual voyeurism” and
“revenge porn” (see McGlynn & Rackley, 2016;
Powell, Henry, & Flynn, 2018). These non-
consensual practices, which often seek to
exert coercion or abuse, are not a new
phenomenon. Neither are they a behaviour
exclusively mediated by technology. In the
past, prior to the inception of digital
technologies, street posters and/or letterbox
drops were used as a means for malicious
practices (Powell et al., 2018). Nowadays,
however, technology not only mirrors different
experiences of everyday life but also
magnifies and/or makes them more visible
(Boyd, 2014). This is the case in distressing and
potentially harmful practices such as IBSA.
While IBSA-related behaviours have attracted
news media attention as well as legal
discussions and interventions (DeKeseredy &
, very little is known about
people’s experiences of this phenomenon
(Powell et al., 2018). This report is the first
attempt to explore the extent and nature of
IBSA in New Zealand.
As the Approved Agency under the Harmful
Digital Communications Act 2015 (the Act),
Netsafe seeks to provide agencies, support
services, and the public with research-based
evidence to better understand this
phenomenon and inform the development of
services and resources that can help those
personally targeted with IBSA to effectively
address its potential negative impact.
Our working definition of IBSA is provided in the ‘What we did’ section of this report.
In New Zealand incidents of image-based sexual abuse can be an offence under the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015. See
What we know so far
Not only is research on the prevalence of IBSA
limited, but also the few available studies have
applied different research designs and/or
definitions of IBSA. As a result, measures are
difficult to compare across studies.
In Australia, for example, a study of 16- to 49-
year-olds conducted in 2016 (see Henry,
Powell, & Flynn, 2017) found that over 1 in 5
survey participants (23%) had experienced at
least one of three forms of image-based
sexual abuse at some point in their lives. The
findings regarding these specific forms of IBSA
show that 20% of participants indicated that
sexual or nude content was taken without their
consent, 11% said that intimate content was
shared without permission, and 9% reported
that they were threatened with the sharing of
sexual content of theirs. Other relevant
findings of the study reveal that males and
females were equally likely to report being the
subject of IBSA, and that young adults (aged
16-29) and those who identify as non-
heterosexual were more likely to be targeted.
Another study requested by Australia’s
eSafety Commissioner (2017) asked those
aged 15 and over about their personal
experiences of IBSA. The study found that 1 in
10 had nude or sexual content shared without
consent. The study also uncovered that
younger adults, indigenous Australians, and
those who identified as non-heterosexual
were more likely to experience this form of
IBSA. However, in contrast to a previous
Australian study (Henry et al., 2017), women
were more likely to experience IBSA
compared to men.
Meanwhile, a lower prevalence of IBSA has
been reported in the United States (see
Lenhart, Ybarra, & Price-Feeney, 2016) where
an overall 4% of respondents aged 15+ said
they have been targeted. The study found that
3% of participants have had someone threaten
to post nude or nearly nude photos or videos
of them online while 2% indicated that
someone actually shared a photo of them
online without their permission (Lenhart et al.,
2016). The findings of this study also reveal
that young people (aged 15-29), in particular
young women, were more likely to report
being a target of IBSA.
A similar trend of low IBSA occurrence has
been described in New Zealand. A study
conducted by Netsafe in 2017 about online
risks and harm found that 3% of adult New
Zealanders had intimate images and/or
recordings shared on the internet without their
permission (Pacheco & Melhuish, 2018). The
study did not explore perceived reasons for it,
who shared the content, and/or the extent of
the impact of this online experience.
In a similar manner, nationally representative
studies on teenagers (aged 14-17) conducted in
Australia and New Zealand depict a low
prevalence of the sharing of nudes without
consent in the prior year. In Australia, the
eSafety Commissioner’s online survey
that around 5% of all teens either shared an
image of someone else online or had shown it
to others on their device. Also, around 9 in 10
Australian teens agreed that sharing a nude
picture or video of someone without their
consent was illegal and people should not do
it. In another Australia-based study (see Crofts,
Lee, McGovern, & Milivojevic, 2015) 20% of
young people said they have showed another
person an image without the person’s consent.
In the same study just 6% indicated sending an
image to another person without consent.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand, a Netsafe (2017)
study found that only 3% of teens surveyed
had shared online nude or nearly nude images
or videos of someone else without consent in
the previous 12 months. However, teens’
perceptions about others engaging in this
behaviour was higher (14%). While these
studies on teenagers provide useful insights,
they were conducted in the context of ‘sexting’
rather than the nature and extent of IBSA.
See the report entitled Young People and Sexting – Attitudes and Behaviours. Research Findings from the United Kingdom, New Zealand
and Australia. https://www.esafety.gov.au/about-the-office/research-library
What we did
We conducted a survey-based study with 1,001
adult New Zealanders. Fieldwork took place
between 30 May and 1 July 2018. The survey
looked at the extent of online risks and
harmful digital communications in New
Zealand. This report only describes the
findings regarding questions on image-based
The objectives of the IBSA questionnaire were
to gauge prevalence among adult New
Zealanders: both self-reported personal
experiences and involvement with this
behaviour. It also sought to explore
participants’ level of agreement with IBSA-
Our working definition of IBSA was informed
by previous research on the topic conducted
Image-based sexual abuse is the
distribution or threat to distribute any
intimate or sexual digital communication
(e.g. picture or video) online without
By intimate or sexual we mean digital pictures
or videos that depict a person nude or semi-
nude (e.g. in underwear). The content might
have been taken and shared with someone
consensually. However, this does not mean
that consent is granted to share/distribute the
content with others through tools such as
mobile devices, social media, websites, and
online forums. The scope of IBSA for this study
also includes content that has been altered to
make it look sexual (Powell et al., 2018).
As our working definition describes, following
the approach of Lenhart et al. (2016), this
research centred on two aspects: peoples’
experiences of threats, and the sharing of their
intimate content without consent. Other similar
IBSA studies have applied definitions that
focused on the sharing of content only (see
eSafety Commissioner, 2017; Pacheco &
Melhuish, 2018) or included the taking of
intimate sexual content without someone’s
permission (see Henry et al., 2017). We did not
take the former approach because the
definition was too narrow and not considering
the making of threats also overlooked a
coercive, and potentially harmful, online
behaviour. The taking of content, on the other
hand, overlaps with other issues such as
privacy. Also, while it might be considered
ethically and morally wrong, the intention to
cause distress and/or its impact on actual harm
is not entirely apparent. For these reasons we
did not consider this aspect.
Those who completed the questionnaire came
from a representative range of backgrounds in
terms of age, gender, ethnicity and region.
Regarding gender, females represented 52%
of the total sample while males made up the
remaining 47.7%. Only 0.03% of participants
identified as gender diverse. In terms of
ethnicity our sample was distributed as
follows: NZ European/Pākehā (71%), Māori
(11%), Pacific (5%), Asian (11%), and “other”
Data about sexual orientation was also
collected. As there were relatively few
respondents who identified as gay, lesbian,
bisexual, or other, these respondents were
grouped as non-heterosexual (n=62) to make
statistically valid comparisons with
heterosexual respondents. This approach is
common in survey-based research.
The margin of error for this study was +/- 3.1%
at a 95% confidence level on total results.
The survey findings provide general
characteristics of IBSA in New Zealand.
However, as the survey results show a low
prevalence of IBSA, a limitation of the study is
that we are unable to confidently compare
findings in regard to key demographics. Thus,
any description of findings in this report on the
basis of demographics such as age, ethnicity
or gender must be taken as indicative.
We are also aware that measuring the
prevalence of IBSA faces other challenges
such as participants’ willingness to honestly
report their personal experiences or individual
judgement of what IBSA is for them, which can
affect the nature of the data collected, and the
interpretation and reporting of findings.
What we found
This section describes the main findings from
the study. In addition, it presents some
reflections from Netsafe’s Contact Centre
team. This team is a key part of our
organisation as they directly deal with
reported incidents of IBSA and provide
support to those who have been targeted. We
asked the Contact Centre team to reflect on
the findings from the perspective of their
operational and practical experience.
OVERALL EXPERIENCES OF IBSA
Of 1001 participants surveyed, a total of 49
indicated to have been threatened and/or
have had personal intimate sexual content
shared without consent, representing around
5% of the total sample. As Figure 1 shows,
IBSA experiences were most common among
young adults, particularly those aged 18-29
Figure 1. Number of participants who have experienced IBSA
Base: Respondents who had someone share or threaten to
share intimate pictures/videos of them online (49).
010 20 30
18 - 29 years old
30 - 39 years old
40 - 49 years old
50 - 59 years old
60 - 69 years old
70 years or older
reflections on gender
“The finding that as many males as females
were targets of IBSA was initially
surprising. This is because the reports we
receive about ‘revenge porn’ are mainly
from women. However, we also deal with
other types of IBSA such as ‘sextortion’
scams where more males than females
contact us for support.
In relation to women’s experiences, a
typical report involves an ex-partner using
intimate images or video to maintain
control over them, to blackmail them, or to
‘punish’ them for leaving a relationship.
The women contacting us in these
relational-IBSA cases are often in serious
distress. Sometimes the incident reported
to us is part of a wider family violence
situation with the real threat of physical
The men contacting us about sextortion
scams seem to reluctantly seek support.
Finding their situation embarrassing, they
commonly only report to us online and
don’t often elaborate on the distress they
are experiencing. This could be because of
the shame associated with engaging
quickly in sexual activity online with
strangers, and perhaps they are aware that
it is risky behaviour.”
There was no statistical difference regarding
experiences of IBSA behaviour between males
and females. Both were equally likely to
experience image-based sexual abuse online.
As previously described, IBSA is defined on
the basis of two behaviours: threatening to
share and sharing without consent intimate
content online. We asked participants about
these two separately.
EXPERIENCES OF BEING THREATENED
We asked participants the following question:
“Has someone threatened to distribute or
share online an intimate or sexual picture or
video of you? Soon we will ask whether
someone has actually done this.” To measure
prevalence and frequency our response scale
included: “No”; “Yes, in the last month”; “Yes,
in the last six months”; “Yes, in the last year”;
“Yes, over a year ago”; and “Don’t know”.
Figure 2 shows aggregated responses for this
question. Our findings reveal that a large
majority of participants (94%) said they have
not been threatened with IBSA. Only 4%
indicated that someone had threatened to
share their intimate pictures or videos online,
while 2% said they “don’t know”.
Figure 2. Self-reported experiences of being thr eatened with
Base: All respondents (1001).
Among those who said they were threatened
with IBSA, it was equally common (4%) for male
and female respondents to be the subject of
There is also some indication that threats of
IBSA were more prevalent among non-
heterosexual (8%) than heterosexual
respondents (3%) and more common among
those under 30 years old (7%). Meanwhile,
threatening someone with IBSA was more
common among Asian (8%) and Māori (6%)
compared with other ethnic groups.
No Yes Don't know
EXPERIENCES OF SEXUAL CONTENT
BEING SHARED WITHOUT CONSENT
We also asked participants whether someone
had distributed or shared online an intimate or
sexual picture or video without their consent.
The measures were based on the same
response scale used in the prior question: No;
Yes, in the last month; Yes, in the last six
months; Yes, in the last year; Yes, over a year
ago; and Don’t know.
Our aggregated findings also show a low
prevalence of IBSA in relation to sharing or
distributing sexual content without permission.
Only 3% of respondents indicated that they
personally experienced this situation. A similar
percentage (3%) indicated not knowing
whether this had happened to them, while the
large majority (94%) responded negatively.
Details are given in Figure 3.
Figure 3. Self-reported experiences of sexual content shared
Base: All respondents (1001).
The incidence of the sharing of their intimate
content online without consent was more
common among females aged 18-29 years old
(7%). A similar pattern was identified among
those who did not identify as heterosexual
(10%). Prevalence was also higher among
Asian participants (7%) and those aged under
30 years old (7%).
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE
PERPETRATOR OF IBSA
We also wanted to know who were more likely
to be behind incidents of image-based sexual
Through a follow-up question, we asked all
participants who previously reported to have
been threatened and/or had intimate content
shared online (n=49) about this. The scale of
responses provided to the participants was
developed based on Netsafe’s operational
experience and prior research on the topic.
Among those who have had someone
threaten to or share their intimate pictures or
videos online, this was most commonly done
by an ex-partner (40%) or by someone
unknown to the person (28%). See Table 1.
Table 1. Who the perpetrator of the threatened or actual
sharing of sexual consent without consent was
Who was the perpetrator?
Friend I know face-to-face
Work colleague or ex-work colleague
Acquaintance (someone who is part of my
wider peer group)
Someone I have only met online
Prefer not to say
Base: Respondents who had someone share or threaten to
share intimate pictures/videos of them online (49).
We found some gender differences but, as
previously highlighted, these insights must be
taken as indicative due to the small sample
sizes. Having said this, our data reveal that
among females, the person who threatened to
or shared their intimate pictures/videos was, in
most cases, an ex-partner, or to a lesser extent
No Yes Don't know
a stranger. For males, on the other hand, it was
more common for the person to be a stranger,
or someone they know well (such as a family
member, friend or colleague).
PERCEIVED REASON FOR BEING
TARGETED WITH IBSA
This group of participants was also asked to
indicate the primary reason that motivated that
person to share/threaten to share an intimate
or sexual picture of them. To answer this
question, participants were provided with a list
of twelve potential reasons including “as a
joke”, “get revenge” and “increase their social
Overall, participants’ perceived reasons varied.
The most common motives for IBSA were: as a
joke (19%), to get money (17%), revenge (14%),
or to gain control (12%). Further details are
given in Table 2.
Table 2. Perceived reasons behind experiences of IBSA
As a joke
To get money from you
Get revenge or get back at you
Involuntary event (e.g. released by accident,
account was hacked)
Threaten or intimidate you
For sexual thrill/pleasure
Increase their social standing
To get more images or videos from you
Other (please explain)
Based: Respondents who had someone share or threaten to
share intimate pictures/videos of them online (49).
Our data indicate that for women the most
common reasons for IBSA were for revenge, to
threaten/intimidate, and for the other person to
increase their social standing. For males, on
the other hand, IBSA was intended as a joke or
used for extortion.
ENGAGEMENT IN CONDUCTING IBSA
All participants were asked whether they have
engaged in IBSA behaviour in the last 12
months. Our measure used the following scale:
“never”, “once”, “a few times (2-4)”, “many
times (5 or more)”, and “I don’t know”.
Overall, only 14 people (about 1%) said they
have shared intimate recordings of someone
else without their consent.
Then we asked these participants to specify
their relationship with the person whose
intimate content was shared without
permission. Of these 14 people, 5 said it was a
LEVEL OF AGREEMENT WITH IBSA-
The last part of the survey included six
statements related to IBSA issues. We wanted
to know participants’ level of agreement with
these statements. A Likert scale was used to
measure their responses: “strongly disagree”,
“disagree”, “neither agree nor disagree”,
“agree”, “strongly agree”, and “unsure”. Table
3 presents the aggregated findings.
Regarding whether those in a relationship
should be aware of the risks associated with
sharing intimate pictures with a partner, a large
majority (7 in 10) agreed with the statement.
Older participants aged 50+ tended to agree
more with this statement. No differences were
found in terms of gender.
Just over half of the participants (56%), on the
other hand, considered that sharing intimate
content is the responsibility of the person who
releases it. Males tended to agree more with
this statement than females.
Meanwhile, a significant percentage of adult
New Zealanders (35%) lack knowledge of how
the law treats cases of IBSA (35%). Males
tended to agree more with this statement than
Over a quarter of respondents (27%) indicated
lacking knowledge about where to get advice
to avoid being the target of IBSA. This was
higher among Asian participants compared to
other ethnic groups.
Over 4 in 10 participants (45%) considered that
online providers, such as social media
platforms, are doing enough to prevent cases
Finally, 6 in 10 disagree that the risks of IBSA
are overstated. However, among those who
agree, there were more males than females.
Table 3. Participants’ agreement with IBSA-related issues
People in a
know of the risks of
having any intimate or
sexual pictures or
videos stored or
shared with a (ex)
partner in the first
intimate pictures or
videos is the
responsibility of the
person who releases
I understand how well
New Zealand law
addresses cases of
such as social media
platforms, are doing
enough to prevent
cases of image-based
I know where to get
the advice I need to
avoid becoming a
victim of image-based
The risks of image-
based sexual abuse
Base: All respondents (1001).
This report has presented a snapshot of the
extent of IBSA in New Zealand. The findings
describe the experiences of adult New
Zealanders based on data collected from a
nationally representative survey.
An interesting finding of this study is the low
prevalence of IBSA reported by adult New
Zealanders. As previously described, about 5%
of participants indicated they have been
threatened and/or have had personal intimate
or sexual content shared without consent. This
finding is not significantly different from the
reflections on victim-
“The finding that most people agree
victims of IBSA should be aware of the
risks associated with sharing intimate
content is interesting as it reflects an
assumption we see in our practice: you
should know the risks and therefore
shouldn’t have shared such content in the
What we commonly find in cases of
relational-IBSA is that supporting agencies
and individuals (mainly family and friends)
often insinuate or directly blame the victim.
They report being told ‘they shouldn’t have
shared’, and they should ‘get off social
media’ or ‘get off the internet’ entirely. This
has an impact. Those targeted often tell us
they were left ‘feeling humiliated’ or ‘not
heard’, and that those providing support
‘don’t care’ or ‘don’t understand’. This can
lead towards a lack of trust in support
agencies which results in less engagement
and more difficulty ascertaining exactly
what has occurred.
It is interesting to compare this with the
‘sextortion’ cases reported to us where
contrastingly those targeted do not
typically recount similar experiences.”
results of our 2017 Annual Population Survey,
which found 3% of adult participants had
intimate images and/or recordings shared on
the internet without their permission (see
Pacheco & Melhuish, 2018). Neither does our
finding differ from a similar American study
(Lenhart et al., 2016) that found 4% of
respondents experienced IBSA.
However, the finding contrasts with results
from some Australia-based studies (see
eSafety Commissioner, 2017; Henry et al.,
2017). An explanation for the differences might
be the age range of the samples in the
studies. In our research, participants were all
adults, aged 18+, while the Australian studies
focused on young adults or included teenage
respondents. Another explanation might be, as
previously described, the definitions of IBSA
used in the studies.
On the other hand, there seems to be a
general perception that IBSA is “on the rise”
However, this study does not provide
evidence to support or refute that claim.
Further longitudinal research might help to
gauge whether the prevalence of IBSA has
increased or reduced over the years.
Also, despite the low prevalence of IBSA in
New Zealand, we acknowledge the negative
impact that this phenomenon can exert on
those targeted with it. Our operational
experience – as the Approved Agency under
the Act – shows us that IBSA can be a
distressing and harmful experience. Further,
IBSA incidents are among the most common
criminal offenses charged under the Act since
. In the same vein, prior
research supports claims about the negative
impact of IBSA (Bates, 2017; Short, Brown,
Pitchford, & Barnes, 2017).
On the other hand, the findings of this study
describe some patterns that are consistent
with international research. In this sense, our
results support existing evidence (see eSafety
Commissioner, 2017; Henry et al., 2017;
See for instance http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/life/8958936/The-rise-of-revenge-porn and
See https://www.nzher ald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12133500
Lenhart et al., 2016) which shows that IBSA is a
phenomenon more commonly experienced by
young people. Also, although males and
females are, overall, equally likely to
experience IBSA, there are interesting
differences regarding people’s gender and
age. For example, similar to the findings of
Lenhart et al. (2016), the sharing of nude or
semi-nude content without permission is more
likely to have happened to young females.
Likewise, our results regarding people’s
perceived reasons for being targeted with
IBSA, and the relationship with the person who
threatened or shared content without consent,
provide useful insights to better understand
the nature of IBSA in New Zealand. For
instance, a joke that got out of control is a
significant reason explaining IBSA among
males in our results. However, we believe that
further research is needed, especially more
contextual inquiry. The use of qualitative
techniques in future research has the potential
to make a valuable contribution in this respect.
Finally, an interesting finding is that most
participants (7 in 10) agree that those in a
relationship should be aware of the risks
associated with sharing intimate pictures with
a partner. This sort of view seems to reflect
what some call a culture of
(Felson & Palmore, 2018; Szalavitz, 2018).
Research on sexual assault suggests, for
example, that the tendency of shifting blame
to the victim affects judgements of incidents as
perpetrators are less likely to be seen as
responsible (Bieneck & Krahé, 2011; Schuller &
Hastings, 2002). In the context of IBSA,
shifting blame or responsibility to the person
targeted can also raise barriers to seeking
help or reporting incidents to support services
and agencies (Diemer, Powell, & Webster,
2018). This seems to be consistent with our
operational experience. While this is an
interesting finding, the dynamics and extent of
victim blaming in New Zealand and in the
context of IBSA require further exploration.
Based on this study’s findings and prior IBSA
research, Netsafe has prepared information
and resources to support people facing IBSA.
We also recently released our awareness-
Don’t Be a Nick
campaign aimed at
young New Zealand adults. See:
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qualitative analysis of the mental health
effects of revenge porn on female survivors.
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Thinking sociologically about image-based
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IMAGE-BASED SEXUAL ABUSE: A SNAPSHOT OF NEW ZEALAND ADULTS’ EXPERIENCES
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Recommended citation: Pacheco, E., & Melhuish, N. (2019). Image-based sexual abuse: A snapshot of New Zealand adults’
experiences. Wellington, NZ: Netsafe. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3315984
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