Students from at least 70 Australian high schools are the victims of a pornography ring of boys and young men, who have been secretly exchanging explicit images of female students and other non-consenting women. Users of the site are encouraged to upload pictures of students from particular schools or neighborhoods, along with the full names of girls they are “hunting.” More than 2,000 photographs of schoolgirls from 71 schools across Australia have been posted to the site since it was established last December.
Hundreds of names have appeared on “wanted” lists, including entire school friendship circles, reports News.com.au, which broke the story earlier this week. Once a girl’s name appears on a list, other members of the group then pitch in with identifying information about the intended victim, such as her full name, headshot, school, home address, and phone number, as well as messages such as “Go get her boys!”
Images are then uploaded or offered for trades. In one case, a user offered to trade up to 300 nude images of other potential victims, in exchange for a single nude photo of the girl he was “hunting.”
Many of the girls whose photos have been posted have also logged on to the site and pleaded for the photos to be taken down. Their requests are mostly ignored, mocked or, in some cases, result in retaliation, with male users calling on their “bros” to unearth and upload even more images. One young woman who made a representation on behalf of a friend then had her own name added to the “wanted” list.
“They are hunting women and girls who live in their area and sorting them according to geography,” said Sharna Bremner from End Rape on Campus. “It’s the idea of proximity and accessibility that is considered arousing.
“The thrill is not just that they might see the girl who sits next to them in maths class, it’s also that they can put in an order for the girl from math class. What these boys are really getting off on is the sense of power they feel over these girls, and the idea that they can own and obtain them like objects.”
Bremner says that she can “absolutely see this [website] leading to acquaintance rape.”
“These boys and men are behaving like a pack of hyenas hunting their prey, and then sharing the spoils with the rest of the group,” she said, also comparing the practice to trading cards.
The Australian Federal Police has launched an investigation, and are seeing if it’s possible to shut the site down, which reportedly exists in an ISP location outside Australian jurisdiction. A spokesperson for the AFP told Fairfax Media, “It is important to note that creating, accessing or distributing child pornography is a serious offense, even if you are a child yourself. Child pornography offenses have a maximum penalty of 15 years’ imprisonment.”
Poppy Bradley, a 16-year-old schoolgirl from Sydney, told Buzzfeed she was angry that a video posted on Thursday by the AFP, asking parents to talk to their children about “protecting themselves,” made no recommendations about a conversation with teenage sons who might be sharing the content online.
“It’s just really honestly stupid to believe that you can solve any of these issues by ignoring the fact that young boys have the ability to be the predators,” she said.
“It’s okay to send provocative photos of yourself to somebody that you trust; what’s not okay is that the person takes your trust and abuses it.”
Our safe selfie post triggered a lot of interest, affirming that the topic of online activity is timely and being discussed widely at schools and at home. This is really fantastic! But there are dangers lurking around every virtual corner. The latest news about a website encouraging young people to share images of a sexual nature has prompted our Victim Based Crime Manager, Commander Lesa Gale, to record a video message to outline the dangers.Remember every image you send or post online is permanent, and can be used against you. Think carefully – and if in doubt, DON’T DO IT! Here are some additional handy tips from ThinkUKnow Australia to help protect yourself from being a victim online: 1. Search yourself online; find out what your digital shadow looks like.2. If an image of you appears on a website or app, ask them to remove it.3. Make sure your webcam is covered when not in use.4. Make sure your social media profiles and the apps you use are set to ‘private’.5. If an image is taken of you that you haven’t consented to, take a screenshot and write down the web address. The Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner can help.#staysafe #digitalshadows #thinkuknow
Posted by Australian Federal Police on Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Education around these issues is frequently targeted at girls, Bradley pointed out, advising them against posing for “provocative photos” — simply blaming the victim and failing to educate both sexes about consent. She suggested teachers initiate a different kind of conversation. “It’s about teaching boys what consent is and why consent is so important. Teaching them how when they break this consent, their actions have the potential to damage somebody’s life.”
A change.org petition by the Red Heart Campaign is urging the Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, and the nation’s minister for women Michaela Cash, to shut down the site by any available means.