What is Image-Based Sexual Assault?

Image-based sexual assault, commonly known as ‘revenge porn’, ‘describes the act of sharing images or videos of an individual (the ‘victim’) that are sexually explicit (displaying nudity or showing the person engaged in a sexual act) without that person’s consent’ (End Cuber Abuse).

Perpetrators of image-based sexual assault often share the images or videos on various online platforms, including but not limited to porn websites, social media, messaging apps, online forums and message boards, the dark web and file-sharing websites. Anyone of any age can perpetrate image-based sexual assault so it’s important we educate young people about this crime as soon as is age appropriate.

Image-based sexual assault can have severe emotional, psychological, and even professional consequences for the victims, as it often leads to embarrassment, harassment, and damage to their reputation.

The Term ‘Image-Based Sexual Assault’

The term ‘revenge porn’ was originally coined to describe explicit images or videos shared by an ex-partner following the breakdown of a relationship. We now understand that there are many motivations as to why offenders commit this crime and not just for revenge purposes.

This is why we now use ‘image-based sexual assault’ as ‘revenge porn’ does not fully reflect the nature of the crime and the experience of victims in this situation. 

The emphasis on ‘revenge’ also attributes blame to the victim for having done something to deserve this behaviour.

What Motivates People to Share Explicit Images or Videos Without Consent? 

There are several motivations that may drive people to share explicit images or videos of others without their consent. 

  • Revenge: In some cases, perpetrators may share intimate images or videos as a form of revenge or retaliation against their former partners or individuals with whom they have had a falling out. This could be in response to a breakup, an argument, or perceived betrayal.
  • Control: Sharing explicit images without consent can also be a way for perpetrators to exert control and power over their victims. By distributing these images, they may seek to humiliate, intimidate, or manipulate the victim.
  • Entertainment: In some instances, individuals may share intimate images or videos of others without their consent for entertainment or amusement, without considering the harm it may cause to the victim. This behavior can stem from a lack of empathy or understanding of the serious consequences.
  • Sexual Gratification: Perpetrators may share non-consensual pornography for sexual gratification, either by anonymously sharing the images with others or by gaining pleasure from the act of violating someone’s privacy and autonomy.
  • Peer Pressure or Social Norms: In some online communities sharing explicit images or videos without consent has become a normalised behaviour. Peer pressure or a desire to conform to social norms within these groups may influence individuals to engage in this behavior.
  • Financial Gain: In some cases, individuals involve themselves in image-based sexual assault with the intention of profiting from it, either by selling the images or videos or by using them to extort money from the victim. This is known as digital sexual extortion or sexploitation and you can read more about that in our blog here

The Impact on Victims 

Image-based sexual abuse can have profound and long-lasting effects on its victims, impacting various aspects of their lives, including their emotional wellbeing, mental health, relationships, and professional opportunities. 

Victims of image-based sexual abuse often experience intense emotional distress, including feelings of shame, embarrassment, guilt, and helplessness. They may also struggle with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health issues as a result of the violation of their privacy.. It can also cause significant psychological trauma, similar to other forms of sexual violence. Victims may experience flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts related to the abuse, leading to ongoing emotional turmoil and difficulty in coping with daily life.

Image-based sexual abuse can strain relationships with family members, friends, and romantic partners. Victims may fear judgment, rejection, or stigmatisation from others, leading to social isolation and difficulties in forming trusting relationships.

Victims often face cyberbullying, harassment, and online abuse from strangers or acquaintances who have seen the images or videos. This can worsen feelings of vulnerability and distress, making it challenging to navigate online spaces safely. 

The public exposure of intimate images or videos can have devastating professional and educational consequences for victims. They may face discrimination, job loss, suspension from school, or damage to their reputation.

For young people, image-based sexual assault can very quickly lead to bullying, feelings of isolation and humiliation for the victim given how quickly the content can be shared around the school and with neighbouring schools through peer links. Poor mental health linked with the feelings of embarrassment and isolation can easily lead to poor attendance or even complete school refusal.

Image-Based Sexual Abuse as a Form of GBV (Gender Based Violence)

The European Commission defines GBV as ‘violence directed against a person because of that person’s gender or violence that affects persons of a particular gender disproportionately’. 

End Cyber abuse describe how image-based sexual assault can be considered a type of GBV by considering that perpetrators of this crime are usually men, and their victims are usually women (End Cyber Abuse).

We know that some image-based sexual assault takes place following a relationship break down, but it does also take place within the context of abusive relationships and the release of private images and videos can form part of a cycle of domestic abuse. Threatening to share images in this sense maintains control over the victim and can be used as a blackmailing tool. While this is one of the ways that this crime takes place, as explored earlier images or videos are also obtained in other ways such as through coercion, secret recording and hacking to name a few. 

Largely these crimes are perpetrated by men who are motivated by a desire to exert control over their victims, who are usually women. Therefore crimes of this nature are considered a form of GBV, with women falling victim most often. You can read more about GBV in our blog, Violence Against Women.

What is the Law Around Image-Based Sexual Assault?

The laws surrounding image-based sexual assault vary by jurisdiction, but many countries have started to introduce legislation specifically targeting this issue. These laws typically aim to criminalise the distribution of intimate images without consent and provide support for victims to seek legal action against perpetrators. Penalties for offenders may include fines, imprisonment, or both, depending on the severity of the offense and the laws in place.

In the UK, image-based sexual assault is illegal and as of 27th June 2023, ‘Abusers, predators and bitter ex-partners who share intimate images online without consent of those depicted will face jail time’ (Chalk et al.). The new amendments to the Online Safety Bill will protect victims of image-based sexual assault by changing current laws which require the prosecution to prove that perpetrators shared sexual images or films in order to cause distress. This change makes it easier to charge somebody for this crime and if found guilty, offenders will serve 6 months or more in custody. The law details that ‘where it is proven that a perpetrator also intended to cause distress, alarm or humiliation, or to obtain sexual gratification, they could face a 2-year prison term. Offenders found guilty of sharing the image for sexual gratification could also be placed on the sex offender register’ (Chalk et al.).

Educating and Supporting Students

Teaching students about image-based sexual assault and ensuring they are supported requires a comprehensive approach that addresses both prevention and response. Here are our top tips for addressing this topic in your school.

  • Create Safe Spaces: Foster a supportive and inclusive school environment where students feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics such as image-based sexual assault. Focus on oracy skills, particularly during PSHE lessons, so that students gain confidence in this area. Ensure that harmful behaviours are always challenged, whether in the classroom or not and offer support to students who are affected by harmful behaviour such as signposting to organisations, peer mentoring programmes or counselling. 
  • Education and Awareness: Integrate education about image-based sexual assault into the school curriculum. Provide age-appropriate information about the risks associated with sharing intimate images, the importance of consent, digital privacy, and the legal consequences of non-consensual pornography. This can be done via your PSHE curriculum but it’s also important to make cross-curricular links. Consider covering this in I.T for example, and through assemblies and form time.
  • Promote Healthy Relationships: Teach students about healthy relationships, respect, and boundaries. Emphasise the importance of consent in all interactions, including online communication, and discuss strategies for navigating peer pressure and unhealthy relationship dynamics. Healthy relationships is a key topic that should be covered in RSHE as part of Ofsted’s statutory requirements, but it is also a topic that should be promoted in all areas of the school community e.g. school policies such as safeguarding, bullying and behaviour. 
  • Focus on discrimination and respect: It’s important for all students to feel confident in how they can protect themselves from image-based sexual assault and how they can report issues if they arise. We must also ensure that we are educating students on the topic of gender equality, discrimination and respect including the issue of gender-based violence. It’s important that we directly tackle the culture of sharing images without consent, and address any concerns around toxic masculinity that could arise as a result of these discussions given that the victims of this crime are predominantly female. 
  • Digital Literacy and Online Safety: Ensure students are given advice about how to protect their privacy online, recognise the signs of image-based sexual assault, and safely navigate social media and messaging platforms. Provide guidance on setting privacy settings, managing online reputation, and responding to unwanted advances or harassment.
  • Parent/Carer Communication: It’s important that parents and/or carers recognise the seriousness of staying safe online and the prevalence of image-based sexual assault. Ensure that you are engaging with parents/carers on this topic so they can reiterate these key messages at home, and so they can remain vigilant and know what signs to look out for. Consider holding parent information evenings and sending home newsletters and support packs so they can feel confident to tackle this issue too. 

In conclusion, understanding image-based sexual assault and the ways in which it is perpetrated is crucial in combatting this harmful behaviour effectively. Victims experience long-lasting effects including emotional stress, trauma, relationship strain and cyberbullying as a result of image-based sexual assault. Fortunately, legal frameworks are evolving to address this issue, with many countries introducing laws to criminalise the distribution of intimate images without consent and provide support for victims.This is the case in the UK as law now stipulates that perpetrators can face jail time for this crime. 

To educate and support students, it’s essential to create safe spaces where they feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics, integrate education about image-based sexual assault into the curriculum, promote healthy relationships and digital literacy, and engage parents and carers in these conversations. By taking a comprehensive approach that addresses prevention, intervention, and support, we can empower students to navigate the digital world safely and respectfully, while fostering a culture of consent and respect.

FREE Resource

We have a free lesson on Sexual Violence that you can access here.

Learning outcomes from this lesson: students will be able to:

  • Learn about the definition of sexual violence and its prevalence within society, incl. digital sexual violence
  • Understand the impact that any sexual violence can have on an individual
  • Understand the ramifications of being involved in sexual violence

Life Lessons Video

Sasha shares an intimate photo of her ex with her friends as a laugh – Does this count as image-based sexual abuse and why?


Chalk, A., Scully, P. and Edward Argar , H. (no date) Government crackdown on image-based abuse, GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-crackdown-on-image-based-abuse (Accessed: 15 March 2024).

End cyber abuse (no date) End Cyber Abuse. Available at: https://endcyberabuse.org/law-intro/ (Accessed: 15 March 2024).