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Chatbot goes online to fight sextortion

One in three Australians experience image-based sexual abuse, but many don’t know where to go for help.

RMIT researchers have developed a world-first artificial intelligence chatbot, Umibot, which they hope will encourage victims to report incidents of image-based abuse and find support.

Image-based abuse has spiralled in Australia, according to a 2019 survey by RMIT.

It ranges from sharing or threatening to share sexual images without consent, pressuring others to create sexual content, and being sent unsolicited sexual images or videos.

“It’s a huge violation of trust that’s designed to shame, punish or humiliate,” lead researcher Nicola Henry said.

“It’s often a way for perpetrators to exert power and control over others.”

Professor Henry said victims are reluctant to seek help because they are often blamed by friends or family and feel ashamed.

The team worked with Melbourne-based digital agency Tundra to develop Umibot as an inclusive tool to encourage victims to reach out for help.

“A lot of victim-survivors are not ready to talk to a person about their experiences,” co-researcher Alice Witt said.

“Teaching Umibot how to be empathetic and helpful is a way for them to seek support without any pressure.”

Chatbots helping people who experience online harm already exist, but they are not focused on image-based abuse and lack functionality.

Users can type questions for Umibot or select answers from a set of options, and the chatbot can respond in a way that supports the victim.

Umibot can identify whether users are over or under 18, if they need help for themselves or for someone else, or if they are concerned about something they have done.

Dr Witt said while Umibot should not be a replacement for human support, she hopes bystanders and even perpetrators can also use the tool to prevent online abuse.

Umibot is available to use now:

AAP 2022