Warning of ‘porn crisis’ in Australian schools

The disturbing editing of photos of around 50 teenage girls to create fake nudes is part of an epidemic that is wreaking havoc, experts have warned.

Australian eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said rapidly developing technology is making it harder to determine which content is fake.

It follows the arrest of a teenage boy after doctored images of girls aged 9 to 12 were shared at Bacchus Marsh Grammar, northwest of Melbourne.

“Deepfakes, especially deepfakes pornography, can be devastating to the person whose image is taken and altered without their knowledge or consent, no matter who they are,” Grant said.

“Image-based abuse, including the production of deepfaked images and videos, is an ongoing online harm that also represents one of the most egregious invasions of privacy.”

Kathleen Maltzahn, CEO of Sexual Assault Services Victoria, said the images reflect a wider pornography-driven crisis in schools.

“The availability of online AI programs allowed boys and men to create and distribute deepfake porn,” she said.

‘We see a significant number of children who use sexual violence against others.

“We need to get ahead of the deepfake cases as much as possible and have structures and resources in place so that we can work with schools so that we can deter boys from this behavior.”

The Victorian Department of Education needed better resources to respond to sexual violence in schools, and the federal government should step up its regulation of social media companies, Ms Maltzahn said.

“Schools are not equipped to deal with this, and they are coming to our services, and our services are not funded at the level that we need to be able to go into schools and provide an emergency response,” she said.

“Pornography is significantly fueled by Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and the rest, so we can do something about those companies.”

Laws cracking down on the sharing of sexually explicit AI-generated images and deepfakes without consent were presented to federal parliament on June 5.

However, some politicians remain concerned about the continued availability of online programs to create deepfake images.

Several apps offered prompts including ‘undress someone’, ‘body retouch’, ‘hot looks’, ‘racy images’ and ‘pushing the limits’ – usually among the subscriber’s content.

Face swaps, replicating outfits into ‘short uniforms’, overlaying faces onto pornographic content and inserting sexually explicit photos were possible within half a dozen clicks.

Bacchus Marsh Grammar, northwest of Melbourne, has said it is mentoring students after being made aware of the production and distribution of video content including images of about 50 girls.

“Bacchus Marsh Grammar is taking this matter very seriously and has contacted Victoria Police,” acting principal Kevin Richardson said in a statement.

Police arrested a teenager over the explicit images circulating online and he was released pending further investigation.

The mother of a 16-year-old student heard about the images on Saturday and picked up her daughter from a sleepover.

“She was very upset, she was throwing up and it was incredibly explicit,” Emily – who did not give her surname – told ABC Radio Melbourne on Wednesday.

“She was taken out, but there’s just that feeling of ‘Will it come up, will this happen again?'”

Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas described the incident as “absolutely horrific” and said it was a wake-up call for families and the community to have direct conversations with young people about respect.

“It is clear that young people are accessing material on the internet and through social media that influences their behavior in ways that… actually cause real harm to other young people,” she said.

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