Revenge porn: A modern, legal form of abuse

This article first appeared on Liberal Democrat Voice

Imagine you’re in a loving relationship with someone. In the context of that relationship, you allowed some personal, intimate photographs to be taken that were only for your private enjoyment. Then you split up and, to your horror, find that those private photographs have been put up on the internet for all to see as an act of revenge by your former lover.

That’s got to be illegal, right? Effectively, it’s a form of abuse perpetrated mainly but not exclusively) by men against women, after all. Actually, it isn’t, as one friend of mine found out to her cost.

I’m not going to tell you her name, but I’ll share a little of her story with her permission. Still a teenager, she was in a relationship with a man which lasted, give or take a month or two, for two years.  He persuaded her, against her better judgment, to let her take some nude photos of her.

After the relationship ended, she discovered that he had uploaded these photos to the internet. It took some doing to get the hosting site to remove them. She’s had to go through this process a further 7 times on various websites, posted alongside photos of other women which were labelled things like “fat whore” or “British slut.” She is not alone. This practice is so common it even has a name. Revenge porn and a plethora of websites dedicated to it.

And what can the Police do? Not a lot. It’s only now that she’s shown them her extensive records of messages to and from this man in which she pleads with him to remove these images that they may, note may, be able to charge him with harassment. Breaching someone’s trust in a way that could ruin their lives and career prospects is not, on its own, an offence. And even if he were found guilty of that harassment charge, he still would not be obliged to remove the photos from the internet.

It gets even worse when you realise that any Tom, Dick or Sleazeball who sees the photos is quite capable of sharing or downloading them. One picture of my friend attracted 1600 shares on one social network. If each of them even had 10 followers each, you can see how many people could, at the click of a mouse, see a photograph that they never should have had access to. Now, your average social network is likely, after a fair bit of time-consuming to-ing and fro-ing, to take them down. Your average revenge porn, for whom this indiscriminate abuse of women is their raison d’etre, is unlikely to be so accommodating.

In a world where prospective employers routinely research job applicants on the internet, these photos do not create a good impression. Our society will blame the woman for posing for the photo and not the man who breaches his word and puts it out there for all to see. There’s a name for that too. Slut-shaming. Not sleazy trust-breaker shaming, you’ll note. There is no penalty or even societal disapproval for the abuser.

I touched on something similar last year when I wrote about sexting. This is when (almost always) a girl takes a photograph of herself and sends it to (almost always) a boy who then breaches her trust by forwarding it to all his mates or posting it online. The Police would have had to prosecute the girl for taking the image if they prosecuted the boy for distributing it – and this would only be possible if the girl was underage.

Some US states have made revenge porn illegal and there is now a campaign to press for such a change in the law in this country.  A petition on the subject has attracted over 4000 signatures and my friend has urged everyone she knows to write to their MPs to ask them to support a change in the law.

How would you feel if it happened to you? I suspect you would very quickly learn the meaning of the phrase “spine-chilling” as you saw your personal details shared online, if your mutual friends were tagged in intimate images which they were never meant to see. You know that anyone searching on your name could stumble across them. And imagine the anxiety of not knowing exactly where on that massive expanse of cyberspace they are going to appear next. You just know that they will.

My friend said:

It  should be illegal. I shouldn’t have to wait for such a violation of trust to happen multiple times before I can take action. I’ve had enough of him shaming and manipulating me in to keeping quiet. Thinking that he can get away with it because I’ll be too embarrassed to tell anyone. It’s humiliating but I’m not letting him do this to me any more. It’s making me paranoid and I feel like I have to constantly check the internet to make sure more images of me haven’t been uploaded and it’s wearing me down.

Why should she have to go through this? It’s time for the law to catch up with this most modern form of abuse.  It takes seconds for a controlling man to inflict a lifetime of hell on a woman. That can’t be right.

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About caronlindsay

Scottish Lib Dem pro UK activist, mum, Doctor Who, Strictly, F1 and trashy tv addict and blogger.
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