Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions

Cyberbullying and Threats

Cyberbullying and Threats

Cyberbullying involves the use of the internet and social media to bully, including broadcasting assaults or other crimes via social media or other means of communication. This conduct, or similar conduct by post or phone, is a serious criminal offence.

There are criminal offences for communications containing threats to cause serious harm or to kill. It must be proven that the offender intended the receiver to fear that the threat will be carried out.

There are criminal offences for communications which menace, harass or cause offence either by the content of the communication or the manner and frequency of the communication. These may occur by post or by use of a ‘carriage service’ such as through a phone, internet, social media or other application.

To establish this criminal offence the material must be seriously or significantly offensive according to an objective standard as regarded by a reasonable person. Alternatively, to be ‘menacing’ or ‘harassing’ requires a serious potential effect on receiver, such as causing apprehension or fear for the person’s safety, according to an objective standard of a reasonable person.

Non-consensual sharing of intimate images

Non-consensual sharing of an intimate image has previously been prosecuted under s 474.17 Criminal Code as using a carriage service to menace harass or cause offence, or other offences involving threatening to cause harm. Since 31 August 2018 specific offences were included into the Criminal Code to address this conduct.

Special considerations apply before commencing a prosecution against a child aged under 18 years.

If the content of the material depicts or describes a child under 18 then child exploitation offences may apply.

Law Reform

  • Sections 474.24E-G were inserted into the Criminal Code by the Enhancing Online Safety (Non-consensual Sharing of Intimate Images) Act 2018 which commenced on 31 August 2018.

In May 2018 the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee published a “Report into the Adequacy of existing offences in the Commonwealth Criminal Code and of state and territory criminal laws to capture cyberbullying”.

In February 2016 the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee published a “Report on the Phenomenon colloquially referred to as ‘revenge porn’ which involves sharing private sexual images and recordings of a person without their consent, with the intention to cause that person harm”.

Assistance to Victims

Prosecutors in this area work closely with investigators and our Witness Assistance Service to ensure that victims are treated with dignity, courtesy and respect. The CDPP Victims of Crime Policy sets out an important framework for engaging with victims of crime and their families, where appropriate. In some circumstances, measures in the Crimes Act 1914 may be available to be used to assist victims and witnesses to give evidence where they are unable to do so in the ordinary way because of intimidation, distress, emotional trauma or disability.

Main offences

  • s 474.17 Criminal Code Using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence
  • s 474.24E Criminal Code Using a carriage service to transmit (make available, publish, distribute, advertise, promote) material and the material is an intimate image, without the consent of the subject and reckless as to subject’s lack of consent
  • s 474.24F Criminal Code Using a carriage service to make a threat about an intimate image
  • s 474.15(1) Criminal Code Using a carriage service to make a threat to kill
  • s 474.15(2) Criminal Code Using a carriage service to make a threat to cause serious harm
  • s 471.12 Using a postal service to menace, harass or cause offence
  • s 474.15(1) Criminal Code Using a postal service to make a threat to kill
  • s 474.15(2) Criminal Code Using a postal service to make a threat to cause serious harm.

Penalties

The maximum penalties are terms of imprisonment of 3 years (menace, harass or cause offence), 10 years (threat to kill), 7 years (threat to cause serious harm). Most maximum penalties regarding non-consensual sharing of intimate images range are 3 years’ imprisonment with 5 years’ imprisonment for an aggravated offence in specified circumstances.

Significant Cases

  • Monis v R (2013) 249 CLR 92

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