‘It’s torture for the soul’: the harms of image-based sexual abuse

Clare McGlynn, Kelly Johnson, Erika Rackley, Nicola Henry, Nicola Gavey, Asher Flynn, Anastasia Powell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

81 Citations (Scopus)


Beyond ‘scandals’ and the public testimonies of victim-survivors, surprisingly little is known about the nature and extent of the harms of ‘image-based sexual abuse’, a term that includes all non-consensual taking and/or sharing of nude or sexual images. Accordingly, this article examines the findings from the first cross-national qualitative study on this issue, drawing on interviews with 75 victim-survivors of image-based sexual abuse in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. We adopt a feminist phenomenological approach that permits more nuanced and holistic understandings of victim-survivors’ experiences, moving beyond medicalised, trauma-based accounts of harm. Our analysis develops five interconnected accounts of the harms experienced, that we have termed social rupture, constancy, existential threat, isolation and constrained liberty. Our findings shed new light on the nature and significance of the harms of image-based sexual abuse that emphasises the need for more comprehensive and effective responses to these abuses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541-562
Number of pages22
JournalSocial and Legal Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021


  • feminist phenomenology
  • image-based
  • non-consensual porn
  • revenge porn
  • sexual abuse
  • social rupture

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