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‘It’s torture for the soul’: The Harms of Image-Based Sexual Abuse

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

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Erika Rackley

Nicola Henry

Nicola Gavey

Asher Flynn

Anastasia Powell


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.


McGlynn, C., Johnson, K., Rackley, E., Henry, N., Gavey, N., Flynn, A., & Powell, A. (2021). ‘It’s torture for the soul’: The Harms of Image-Based Sexual Abuse. Social and Legal Studies, 30(4), 541-562.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 14, 2020
Online Publication Date Aug 19, 2020
Publication Date Aug 1, 2021
Deposit Date Jul 19, 2020
Publicly Available Date Aug 20, 2020
Journal Social and Legal Studies
Print ISSN 0964-6639
Electronic ISSN 1461-7390
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 30
Issue 4
Pages 541-562


Published Journal Article (Advance online version) (267 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
Advance online version This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (

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