CCSRI Member Profile: Meet Nicola Henry

CCSRI Member Profile: Meet Nicola Henry

Nicola Henry is a socio-legal scholar with over 20 years of research experience. She is an ARC Future Fellow and Professor at RMIT. She has been a member of the RMIT Centre for Cyber Security Research and Innovation (CCSRI) since 2021.


Nicola Henry is a Professor and an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow in the Social and Global Studies Centre in the School of Global and Urban Studies at RMIT. She has been a member at the Centre for Cyber Security Research and Innovation (CCSRI) since 2021.

Henry grew up in New Zealand but has lived in Australia over the past two decades. A socio-legal scholar, she has over 20 years of research experience in the sexual violence field. Well-published, her work investigates the extent, nature and impacts of sexual violence and harassment, including legal and prevention responses in Australian and international contexts.

CCSRI chats with Nicola

The CCSRI team was lucky enough to sit down with Henry to chat through her work, current projects and their impact on the world. Henry tells us she’s long been interested in the prevalence of sexual harm and its impacts along with its relation to the law and the surrounding questions of justice. Ten years ago, Henry worked on an Australian Research Council (ARC) discovery project with RMIT criminologist Professor Anastasia Powell. The project started with quite a broad scope, looking at technology-facilitated sexual violence. As a part of the research, they conducted a national survey along with one-on-one interviews and found that experiences involving image-based abuse – colloquially known as “revenge porn” – was a reoccurring theme among the participants they spoke to. As a result, Henry and her team have spent the past ten years diving deeper into the world of image-based abuse.

The team conducted a survey among individuals from Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. The results revealed that one in three respondents had experienced image-based abuse in various forms. Specifically, one in five participants reported having their intimate images shared without consent, while almost one in ten said they had received threats regarding the sharing of their intimate images. Additionally, one in three respondents had someone take intimate images of them without consent.


Despite the alarming prevalence of image-based abuse, the survey highlighted a significant lack of knowledge regarding the available recourse for such offenses. In fact, a majority of individuals were unaware that these actions could be considered criminal charges.

“Even though the experiences and impacts of the 75 victim-survivors we interviewed were so diverse, there was a common theme – the participants often didn’t know that there was anything that could be done to help them. The few that had tried reporting to the police had terrible experiences in doing so –they were either blamed or had their experiences minimised.”

This sparked something in Henry, there had to be a better way to help victim-survivors. Having been interested in the implementation of digital tools to aid individuals who’ve experienced image-based abuse and having an awareness of the evolving technologies, Henry submitted a project application to the ARC in 2019.

“I was aware of chatbots, though my experience was really from a consumer perspective. I also knew of Hello Cass, which is an Australian chatbot for victims and survivors of sexual and domestic abuse.”

I really wanted to explore how different digital tools might help victim-survivors of image-based abuse and a chatbot felt like it could be the right format.

This idea to centralise information and resources for victim-survivors of image-based abuse came to life in Umibot, a chatbot co-created by Henry and RMIT Research Fellow, Dr Alice Witt, Umibot is driven by expert research and rooted in understanding. The process for developing Umibot was a long one, “both challenging and rewarding,” Henry says.

Exploring rule-based, hybrid, and context based chatbots

In general, there are three types of chatbots. The first is a rule-based chatbot where users navigate the conversation by selecting pre-filled questions and responses. The second is a hybrid chatbot, like Umibot, which uses AI-language processing as well as the rule-based button interface. The third is a context based chatbot which is wholly reliant on AI, like ChatGPT. The main difference between the AI in a hybrid chatbot and the AI in a context chatbot is that a hybrid bot is more controlled. Hybrid bots use their own intelligence to respond, while context chatbots learn from their interactions with users, simultaneously making them more intelligent and potentially more risky.

As a hybrid chatbot, Umibot users can either select pre-filled questions or ask queries of their own. To bring Umibot to life, Henry and Witt worked with Tundra, a Melbourne-based digital agency. One of the most impressive aspects of this project was the dedicated collaboration amongst the teams specialising in research-driven content, technical development and UX design. In short, Umibot is the result of a partnership between both content and technical expertise.

Reflecting on the Umibot project

Henry talks about the project with a gentle humour, as if to not boast about the years of time and effort that went into creating Umibot. Built on Amazon Lex, Henry and Witt compiled a 500-page database of knowledge and resources to train the bot with. “Umibot has been a great challenge and a great joy. We’ve learned so much and we’re now in the process of writing a journal article of best practice guidelines for developing a chatbot. There’s a lot to consider with regards to privacy, safety and the ethics as well as the theoretical frameworks behind the content of a bot.”

Thinking back on the years of researching image-based abuse, Henry has noticed quite a shift in public perceptions and government and platform action. “At the time, the term ‘revenge porn’ was being used, and there wasn’t another term. This was problematic because it only captured a very narrow set of behaviours. There are all sorts of motivations for sharing non-consensual images, and it’s not always related to a relationship or a breakup. We’ve now seen a real shift in thinking about image-based abuse beyond that context, it’s helped to change the frame of view. Although it’s still common for people to blame and shame victims, including even well-meaning people, I’m seeing that far less now”.

While there is still work to be done, Henry recognises the importance of the increased public awareness and media coverage. This attention and Henry’s research have helped advocate for real change. There are now specific criminal offences for cases of image-based abuse in all states and territories (with the exception of Tasmania).

Henry’s wealth of expertise is coupled with a wonderful approachability. She’s a real advocate for what she believes in, and her work is driving positive change.

There’s a brief moment in our interview that demonstrates my impression of Henry in the short time that we spoke. One of Henry’s cats walks past her shoulders as she’s rattling off statistics, a fluffy tail flashes across her face but her sentence isn’t broken. Henry has an attentive focus to her work and an appreciation for its gravity, but there’s also a lightness to her – a gentle humour and a softspoken compassion.

15 June 2023


15 June 2023


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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.