My Body My Choice: Understanding Image-Based Abuse
Image: Domenica Calarco Instagram edited by Canva
In the lead up to the Married At First Site (MAFS) episode on the 16th March 2022, Channel 9 teased audiences that a ‘nude photo scandal’ was to implicate one of the contestant brides. And within minutes of airing, Channel 9 effectively promised viewers with a ‘whodunit’ mystery - who was the ‘culprit’ that brought the scandal to the dinner party?
As the episode unfolded, it was revealed that contestant Olivia Frazer had distributed an intimate image of fellow contestant bride, Dominica Calarco, among the rest of the group prior to the dinner party. Frazer had obtained the intimate image, allegedly through Google, that Calarco for her OnlyFans profile. OnlyFans is a subscription service that allows creators to make money by selling their content to users on either a subscription or per-view basis. While Calarco had consensually created the intimate images for her OnlyFans, she did not consent to Frazer sharing this image with the other contestants.
Frazer claims that she obtained the image through Google, however, fans and fellow contestants questioned whether it was taken from Calarco’s OnlyFans account behind a paywall. If she did, it would be in clear violation of the OnlyFans Terms of Service which forbids the redistribution of content from the platform, as well as potentially using the distribution to harass Calarco. It may also constitute image-based abuse, which is defined by the eSafety Commissioner as the sharing of an “intimate image or photo… without the consent of the person pictured”.
With the exception of Tasmania, each Australian state and territory have offences which criminalize image-based abuse. In Victoria, Part 1 Division 4 of the Summary Offences Act 1966 contains offences which prohibit distributing or threatening to distribute an intimate image of another without consent. Whether Frazer’s conduct warrants criminal liability, may depend on the wording the applicable state or territory legislation, as well as whether the offence extends to non-consensually distributing consensually made pornography. At the time of writing, News.com.au reported that there is a police investigation into Frazer’s distribution of the intimate image.
Triple J Hack criticized Channel 9 for using the non-consensual distribution of Calarco’s image as a source of ‘drama’ and a ‘plotline’ for the series, relying on outdated and inappropriate narratives of slutshaming. Hack also questioned the role of producers in failing to halt the spread of the image throughout the group. The real scandal, Hack reiterated, was this could constitute image-based abuse.
In 2017, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s Image Based Abuse National Survey found that almost one in ten Australians had experienced their intimate images being shared without their consent. This figure is higher for young women, with one in five women between the ages of 18-45 experiencing image based abuse. The survey also found that perpetrators often knew the victim, including friends and ex-partners. One in five people had been bystanders to online image-based abuse, with 44% taking no action whatsoever, 34% saying something to the person who showed them the image or video and 7% telling the person who was in the image or video.
Source: Channel Nine
At the dinner party, Calarco was subject to slutshaming and victim blaming, with comments such as ‘you put it out there’ and you 'gotta cop this’ made by other brides around the table. Domenica had made it clear that her problem did not lie with them knowing she had an OnlyFans, but rather the circulation of the image without her knowledge or consent. The findings of the eSafety Commissioner’s National Survey found that while a majority of Australians recognise the harm caused by image-based abuse, a majority hold victim-blaming attitudes. More broadly speaking, the bullying Calarco faced at the table reflects the stigma that sex-workers face even today in the industry.
On another level, Frazer’s distribution of Calarco’s OnlyFans content reflects the tip of an iceberg in terms of distributing OnlyFans content outside of the platform. In 2020, VICE writers Samantha Cole and Joseph Cox broke a story on the underground trade of Onlyfans content. They revealed that Tech-savvy subscribers to OnlyFans creators could automate and collect content using a software ‘scraper’ tool and then either re-host it on free sites, resell it, or even use it to harass and threaten the creator. While OnlyFans have some mechanisms to try to prevent this, such as the terms of service, offering watermarking services to trace stolen content, and preventing subscribers from directly downloading from the site, the platform is not ‘scrape’ proof. Not only does this take away the autonomy and consent of the creator, but also reduces their ability to earn an income, when their content has been stolen and is available elsewhere for free.
Image based abuse is serious, and increasingly prevalent in our digitized society. It’s disappointing to watch it unfold on our screens - particularly being inflicted by a woman against another woman - but even more disappointing that Channel 9 used it as an attention-grabbing plot line.