‘I bet you were raped and you f***ing deserved it’
WHEN hairdresser Tiffany Barlow heard revenge porn had become a crime in Queensland earlier this year, she burst into tears.
"I bawled my eyes out. I'm going to cry now just thinking about it," she said.
Under the new law, anyone convicted of distributing or threatening to distribute intimate images or prohibited visual recordings of a person without their consent now faces up to three years in jail.
Anyone threatening to distribute an image can be charged - whether or not the image actually exists - and the law also covers photoshopped images.
The passing of the Bill was the culmination of something Ms Barlow, a Brisbane resident, started pushing for in 2015 when there was little that could stop men sharing nude photos of women online.
"At that time, there was a folder circulating online called Brisbane Nudes, and it had a few of my friends in it," Ms Barlow said.
"All these guys were sharing nudes of their ex-girlfriends. It was really scary. It was girls they'd either chatted with or broken up with, and then they distributed it to all these other guys."
Ms Barlow said the folder had the names, addresses and workplaces of Brisbane women together with their nude photos, and that the women she knew who were in it were terrified.
"There were two or three names on there that I was like 'please do not be my friend' but I opened it and it was them. My friends were in there," she said.
"They'd already been blackmailed, humiliated, some had lost their jobs. They didn't want to come out and say anything more for fear of whatever man they'd rejected or ever been with was going to do."
Ms Barlow said some of the women had men they didn't even know turning up at their workplaces.
"And the people who were distributing this didn't know who they were giving it to. They were just literally giving it to the world," she said.
"It's kind of like urban legend. You don't believe it's true, you don't want to believe it's true. But then you open the folder and see someone you love and know inside and this is real. That's where they work, that's their address, that's their name."
Even though she wasn't a victim, Ms Barlow took up the cause for all the women who felt they couldn't.
"I was in a position where the people using that weapon could not shoot me with it. I didn't feel at risk because there are no nude photos of me out there. It makes it harder for baby boomers to relate and want to do something about it because the response I always got was just don't send nude photos in the first place. But that's not going to help the people who've already been stalked and exposed and humiliated," she said.
"I said to my friends that they had to do something, but there was nothing they could do unless they were underage. They'd become pornography and hadn't even consented to it. I didn't know much about it but I was like, I'm going to find some way to do this."
She contacted the office of local member Grace Grace alerting her to the issue in early 2015, which led to the first of many conversations with Queensland Police Inspector Corey Allen.
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"He really started pushing for avenues for these girls to report the crimes while we petitioned to make some noise about it. Everyone started listening then," Ms Barlow said.
More than 4000 people signed Ms Barlow's petition on change.org calling for legislation to protect victims of revenge porn.
"Jilted ex-lovers and potential suitors that women have entrusted with explicit photos are free to post the images for malicious reasons onto websites and into public forums - and they can do so without breaking the law," she wrote in 2015.
"Women are not giving their consent to appear on these websites and file swapping systems yet there is no law or act in place to protect them or to make the perpetrators stop. Australia needs to step up and protect their women from these awful malicious acts and recognise revenge porn as what it is - a sex crime."
At the time, Ms Barlow was shocked that the behaviour hadn't already been legislated against.
"When I rang around, no-one knew anything about it, which was shocking to me. I still can't get over the fact that nobody in any place to help knew anything about it," she said.
"I was doing an apprenticeship at the time and Corey and I did most of it by phone. My friend Clinton was also helping me. He was my backbone online because people would just shred me for being a woman with something to say, but when he said it, guys were like 'yeah man, you're right'. He jumped in and was ready to fight and encouraged me to start the petition. He was sharing it and getting his guy friends to share it too."
Insp Allen remembers Ms Barlow well - along with her frustration and emotion when he first spoke to her in 2015.
"She must've been getting the runaround because people couldn't really work out what offence had been committed," he said.
"There were no specific offences for that type of thing, but obviously someone was doing something wrong using social media to cause someone else harm. While we didn't have something that specifically fitted, it was pretty close to using a telecommunications service to harass or intimidate."
Insp Allen had lengthy phone conversations with Ms Barlow to help victims find some satisfaction under the law as it stood in 2015.
"Initially I thought even if we just talk to these people and take their versions and build up some intelligence around it, if it doesn't result in a charge, sometimes that's enough for a victim," he said.
"It doesn't always have to end up in court to be resolved. You have to think how can I help this person in a way that respects their privacy, treats them with dignity and helps them deal with what happened."
"All I did was listen to these people and get them hooked up with the right people. I spoke to a detective I knew who had the right approach and knew what we needed to do, and it went from there."
Insp Allen said Ms Barlow had every right to be upset about what was occurring in 2015.
"There was harm happening to local women being impacted by this horrible thing that we needed to at least have a look at and understand better because laws don't really respond to change as fast as change happens. But even if we hadn't found an offence or prosecution to charge someone with, we still would've done something, even just interviewing other people involved. That's the groundwork police do all the time that can identify what changes in law can happen to make things easier to prevent."
Insp Allen said he'd heard of young people sharing images inappropriately, but what Ms Barlow told him about four years ago was overwhelming.
"We need laws for different crimes we haven't even thought of yet in the digital and personal space. I could only imagine the impact it would've had on women to see pictures of themselves blasted all over the place by someone they may have trusted once," he said.
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"I know when police and people listen to each other and they agree that something needs to be done, then things can get done. Often just listening and treating people with respect makes a massive difference."
Once the change.org petition started gaining traction, Ms Barlow said she had the chance to speak out in the media but declined, fearing for the safety of herself and her family.
"I was starting to get death threats from d***heads for ruining their fun by getting the nudes taken down," she said.
"That was scary at the time to think that people really were coming for me over this."
Many of the threats Ms Barlow received were sexual.
"Sharing the stuff I do online, it only takes one forum of male douchebags to find it and they all troll you, and that's water off a duck's back. But I probably had eight or nine threats that had me frightened. They were all rape-based threats. Or 'I bet you were raped and you f***king deserved it'. That kind of terrible vile sh*t," she said.
"Another person was like 'I'm going to find your kids'. And I was like, why would you involve my children in this? Because you can't post nudes online anymore?"
Since the law passed this year, Ms Barlow said she was more confident about speaking out about the issue.
"I'm not as scared of people as much as I was, especially after meeting Corey. He was really supportive and made me think 'there's someone in my corner here'."
Ms Barlow said she never even met Insp Allen, but her campaign - supported by thousands of men and women - became a passion project to get the nude folder shut down and for politicians to do something to stop it happening ever again.
"Complete strangers were inboxing me saying 'please help, what do I do?' and I'd tell them to contact Corey. But he said they'd very rarely do it because they were scared," she said.
Four years on, Ms Barlow says she still knows some of the women in the photos, and while they've moved on with their lives, still bear the effects of having their nude images shared among strangers.
"Some of the women deleted their social media accounts and never used them again. Some are still traumatised and completely suffering from it and can't even have a normal relationship with somebody. For some of the girls, it was their first boyfriend (who shared their photos). How do you ever get over that, having your photos distributed online?" she said.
After the revenge porn law passed in February this year, Ms Barlow wrote a letter to Insp Allen who'd helped her all those years ago.
"You were assigned to my case and really heard me out about revenge porn and what was happening to a lot of my friends at the time," she wrote.
"This was a time where no one in their authority positions really knew or understood what was going on, but a lot of my friends were suffering... even though it wasn't a crime then, you set up an avenue for the victims to report it... you were the absolute first here in Queensland to help us. You were the first person in a position of authority to seriously hear me (a voice for us) out. You made connections to higher places to hear us out," she wrote.
"The revenge porn law has passed now, so I wanted to touch base and say thank you so much. No-one ever remembers where a huge change starts, but I remember you."