• Understanding Victims of Revenge Porn

    By Rebecca Sharp

    What thoughts come to mind when someone mentions the words ‘revenge porn’? In our experience, statements like “they shouldn’t have taken the picture in the first place”, “it’ll never happen to me” or “they should just be proud of their body” come to mind for many.

    Unfortunately, those two small words, ‘revenge’ & ‘porn’ present a whole host of assumptions about the crime we’re actually dealing with. Did they deserve it? Are they a porn star? Don’t they like the attention? The answer to all those questions is, of course, no. Absolutely not.

    Revenge Porn, otherwise known as image-based sexual abuse, is a criminal offence which can be debilitating, distressing and traumatic for victims. The law describes the offence as “the act of disclosing private sexual photographs or films without the consent of an individual who appears in them and with intent to cause that individual distress”. The law is not limited to partners or ex-partners, and anyone, including strangers, could commit such an offence. It is currently punishable by up to 2 years in prison in England & Wales, and 5 years in prison in Scotland.

    The Revenge Porn Helpline is the UK’s first, free & confidential service dedicated to helping individuals over the age of 18 who have been victims of image-based sexual abuse. The helpline provides emotional support, practical assistance in the removal of intimate content online, guidance on police reporting and can sign-post to other specific support services including free specialist legal advice.

    Many could assume that the classic ‘ex shares photos out of rage’ scenario, one we’ve all seen splashed about in the media so often, is accountable for almost all of our helpline cases. Of course, this is something we see at times, but it’s important to acknowledge that this crime is often far more complex and traumatic than this. The vast majority of our cases involve elements of harassment, stalking, domestic abuse, extortion, sexual assault and honour-based violence to name but a few.

    Often, we encounter victims who find content of themselves being shared that they didn’t even consent to being taken in the first place. This can be for a variety of reasons; in some cases secret cameras were in their partner’s bedroom, in others they were sexually assaulted and filmed, while some were forced in to taking images as part of ongoing domestic abuse.

    Fundamentally though, even if someone does share an intimate image willingly with one individual they trust, it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to share that image with thousands of strangers across the world. In comparison, it seems clear that it would not be OK for everyone I met to feel it was their right to be in a sexual relationship with me, simply because they found out that I was intimate once with an ex-partner. My body belongs to me and it is my choice to say who has the right to see it and who doesn’t.

    These individuals have been the victim of a crime and deserve the right to seek support just like any other victim.

    Since the Revenge Porn Helpline began in 2015, we’ve had just over 9,000 contacts from individuals needing our help. Our case numbers continue to rise at around 40% a year and we predict we will have four times as many cases in 2019 as we did when we began in 2015. This shows us that not only is this problem not going away, but its increase is rapid in a world of anonymous uploading and viral posts.

    In addition, 80% of victims contacting our helpline identify as women, and so it feels important that we look at this crime as a wider reflection of our society: Why do so many people think it’s their right to share intimate images of non-consenting women alongside comments inciting hate, misogyny and sexual violence?

    Unfortunately, this means more than just ensuring that there are laws in place that criminalise such behaviour; more than investing in new technologies that prevent digital uploads and more (so, so much more) than just telling our women to cover up and stop taking pictures. It involves education – both for those at risk of becoming perpetrators as to why this behaviour is not OK, and for the host of professionals assigned to deal with cases of this kind.

    Almost on a daily basis, individuals come to us saying that they’ve reported what has happened and have been told that it isn’t against the law, that this ought to teach them a lesson, or that at least they have a nice figure. They have been greeted with dismissal, blame and laughter, not by their friends, their family, not by their new partner or their work colleagues, but by the police. By the very professionals who are there to protect them. Of course, this isn’t to say all experiences are the same, and from time to time we hear of cases where victims feel supported and understood, but unfortunately this is a rarity.

    It is completely unacceptable for us to accept a victim ‘pot-luck’ scenario, where individuals must risk being re-traumatised simply for reporting a crime. Professionals assigned to deal with a crime of this kind must be trained to know basic information like where the law stands, what Twitter is and how to obtain evidence from online sources. This kind of action sits alongside the importance of having laws to protect individuals, new technologies that help facilitate prevention and support charities such as ourselves that allow a space for victims to explore their options and know that they are not alone.

    At the very least we believe victims have a right to know they’ll be respected and supported when they pick up the phone to report something that is a criminal offence.

    Victims of image-based sexual abuse, whether they willingly sent an image to someone they trusted, were coerced by a controlling partner or blackmailed by a stranger, are fighting every day to get their control back. Let’s remember, it is their body, and in whatever capacity they took a photo, they have a right to say where and how their body is shared.

    If you’ve been a victim of image-based sexual abuse, you can contact us for free, confidential support:

    Website: www.revengepornhelpline.org.uk

    Email: help@revengepornhelpline.org.uk

    Phone: 0345 6000 459*

    *Calls cost the same as standard landline numbers that start with ‘01’ or ‘02’. If your phone tariff offers inclusive calls to landlines, calls to 0345 numbers will also be in included in the same way. The helpline are always happy to return calls on request.

     

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