Staying safe online
So much of our lives revolve around being connected to the internet. We watch, chat, message, learn, shop, play, date, work, even bank. You can’t walk your dog online, yet, but you can find someone to come and do it for you!
And you have every right to do all of these things safely and without fear.
But unfortunately, not everyone behaves respectfully or responsibly online. Some people might feel it is their right to encroach on your rights, make you the target of trolling or bullying or, in extreme cases, make threats to your personal safety.
While you can’t control the behaviour of other people online, there are things that you can do to safeguard yourself from negative experiences.
Protective online behaviours can help minimise the chance of you being the target of harassing or abusive online behaviours.
Keep your privacy settings up to date and don’t give out personal information unless you are sure it is going to a trusted source.
Things like this:
- full name
- phone numbers
- date of birth
- email address
- username and password
- bank details.
Visit the eSafety Commissioner's website for more practical tips on keeping your information secure.
There are federal and state-based legislation and laws that regulate what you can legally do online, and there are serious consequences if these laws are broken.
The Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015
The Enhancing Online Safety Act 2015 created the eSafety Commissioner with the goal of enhancing online safety for children. In 2017, its oversight was expanded to ensure online safety for all Australians.
How the eSafety Commissioner can help
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner engages in a broad range of activities including:
- a complaints service for young Australians who experience serious cyberbullying
- identifying and removing illegal online content
- receiving reports and responding to image-based abuse.
As more people go online to establish, manage and maintain relationships, incidents of abuse have increased dramatically - particularly cyber-bullying, predatory online behavior, and image-based abuse.
The eSafety Commissioner administers a civil penalty scheme for the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. This scheme allows victims of image-based abuse to submit reports to the Commissioner. In response to a report, the Commissioner may take removal action and in some cases may take action against the person responsible for the image-based abuse.
Sexual harassment is gender-based insults and abuse and includes pressure, coercion, and intimidation for sexual activities or sending of nude pictures.
It’s an offence in Australian law to:
- harass people online (texts, emails, chat, apps) or via phone
- use a mobile phone to make a threat, menace, harass, cause offence, monitor or track.
Getting a restraining order
If someone online is harassing you or attempting to cause problems with distressing pics and videos, you can apply for a number of protection orders from Legal Aid or your local Community Legal Centre, to prevent them from contacting you again.
If you’re under 18, the eSafety Commissioner can help if you, or someone you know, has been cyberbullied. You can contact eSafety to make a complaint, find someone to talk to, and get some advice on dealing with cyberbullying.
Sending unsolicited intimate images
Laws about sharing intimate images or nudes vary from state to state and it can be difficult to know if sending an unsolicited intimate image is illegal harassment.
In most states the law says you can consent to both sex and sexting at age 16. BUT, when you use the internet or a mobile phone, federal laws also apply.
Federal law bans sexting by anyone under the age of 18. When sexting involves someone under 18, it can be considered child pornography or an indecent act.
To keep everyone safe, if someone hasn’t asked you to send them an intimate image, DON’T DO IT.
If you receive an unsolicited intimate image or video:
- If you don’t know the sender block them without responding.
- If you know the sender, delete it without sharing and make it clear you don’t want to receive any more unsolicited sexts.
- If it is someone from school, you can contact the school.
- If you are under 16 and an adult is sending you naked images, that’s a crime and you can report the matter to the police or ask a parent or guardian for help.
Sharing intimate images may seem like innocent flirting, or is something funny you do with good friends, but it can have serious social and legal consequences.
If someone has published an intimate image without your permission or tried to blackmail you with the threat of publishing an intimate image (revenge porn), the eSafety Commissioner can help you. They also have a range of support material about image based abuse available on their site.
Controlling online behaviours include:
- accessing your phone, emails, chats, or texts
- restricting your connections with others on social media, voice call, or text
- monitoring your location
- intimidation and harassment over chats or messenger
- pressuring or coercing you to send nude or intimate images
- threatening to share nude images of you, or especially doing so
- online humiliation, e.g. telling stories about you online, trolling you
- tracking your activities online
- pressuring you to cancel dating app profiles
Any sort of controlling behaviour is a red flag and sign that your relationship is not healthy or respectful.
The eSafety Commissioner’s website includes a checklist of steps you can take if think you are being followed, stalked or controlled online.
1800RESPECT is the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. Open 24 hours to support people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse.
Call 1800 737 732