Three in five Australians have been the target of online harassment and abuse, a landmark study has revealed.

Women and young adults are most likely to report being sexually harassed online, while one in 10 adults said someone had shared a nude or semi-nude image of them without their consent.

Social science researcher Dr Anastasia Powell led the Australian-first study on the experiences of adults and digital harassment.

She says the findings reveal that new laws are needed to deal with online abuse.

“That one in 10 Australian men and women have had a revealing image distributed without their permission is highly significant,” Dr Powell said.

“It is clear that image-based sexual exploitation and abuse of adults, sometimes referred to as ‘revenge pornography’, is an important issue.

“We need uniform laws to deal with people who share images without consent.”

The study reveals victims of online harassment and abuse are both male and female, though women are twice as likely to be targeted by male offenders, while men are twice as likely to be the perpetrators of digital abuse.

More than name calling or offensive remarks, Powell said digital abuse included sexual harassment, threats and cyber stalking.

RMIT’s Dr Powell and her co-investigator, Dr Nicola Henry from La Trobe University, produced the Digital Harassment and Abuse of Adult Australians study with Australian Research Council funding.

They surveyed 3,000 Australian adults aged 18-54 on their use of technology and their experiences with harassment and abuse.

The pair also interviewed 30 experts in law enforcement, legal services and sexual and domestic support services.

“These interviews revealed how perpetrators of domestic violence use the threat and distribution of nude or sexual images as a means to abuse, exploit, and control their victims,” Powell said.

“Gaps need to be addressed to protect the victims of targeted abuse, harassment and revenge pornography and we also need to better utilise existing laws so that victims of online harassment, cyberstalking and intimate partner violence are supported to seek justice.”