Is the Pandemic Leading to a New Normal of Revenge Porn?

BBC News website reports on recent alarming rise in reports from victims.

Posted Oct 16, 2020

Under the headline, "Revenge porn new normal" after cases surged in lockdown, the BBC News website lately reported on a recent dramatic rise in reports of so-called revenge porn, with the problem having been apparently exacerbated by lockdown.

Photo by pixnio public domain CCO
Camera
Source: Photo by pixnio public domain CCO

Revenge porn occurs when a vengeful person uploads revealing pictures of someone online, often as retaliation following the end of a relationship.

The BBC explains that there has been a 22 percent rise in reports from victims made to a UK government-funded helpline, compared with last year. The charity has helped remove 22,515 revenge porn images this year. The BBC even claims there are now fears that the rising epidemic of revenge porn is becoming "the new normal."

The report also revealed that recent research by UK domestic violence charity Refuge found that one in seven young women has received threats that intimate photos will be shared without their consent.

While intimate photo sharing is a relatively normal part of relationships in 2020, perhaps the issue of rising levels of revenge porn illuminates a largely hidden problem with the pandemic, which is that it may have disrupted intimate connections in all sorts of unexpected ways.

In an academic study entitled "Revenge Porn and Mental Health: A Qualitative Analysis of the Mental Health Effects of Revenge Porn on Female Survivors," Samantha Bates, who was based at Simon Fraser University, Canada, at the time of the research, conducted in-depth interviews with 18 female revenge porn survivors.

One of the victims interviewed in this study changed her routines and behaviors when she was alone due to strangers showing up at her house looking for sex after seeing naked photos of her on the Internet. Her ex-boyfriend used internet chat rooms and pretended to be her online. He would send naked photos of her to strangers, give them her home address, and ask them to come over to her house for sex. She mentioned one time in particular when a man broke into her house, grabbed her, and tried to choke her.

Another study entitled "The dark side of the online self: A pragmatist critique of the growing plague of revenge porn," published in the Journal of Mass Media Ethics: Exploring Questions of Media Morality, reports that several non-consensual pornography websites encourage users to submit compromising images of ex-partners for revenge. These websites often encourage others to then leave insulting comments. For example, in one 3-month period, one revenge porn website received 10,000 photo submissions.

Another study, entitled "Criminalizing revenge porn" and published in the Wake Forest Law Review, examined 1,244 non-consensual pornography survivors and found that more than 50 percent of survivors’ full names and links to social media profiles accompanied the naked photos, and that 20 percent of survivors’ email addresses and phone numbers were posted with their photos.

Impacts of non-consensual pornography include; public disgrace, new romantic partners dry up, depression and anxiety, job loss, difficulties securing new employment, and offline harassment and stalking.

Previous research has established that women generally do not send nude photos to men they do not know. Samantha Bates argues in her study that a level of trust is likely necessary before women feel comfortable sending a nude photo. This outlook counters, she contends, the “she should have known better” argument.

Some more of the participants’ experiences with revenge porn, from the study by Samantha Bates, are included below.

Another victim explained that her ex-boyfriend posted an eBay auction for a disc containing naked photos of her, which she successfully had taken down from eBay. However, a year later, he created a porn website with the naked photos of her, which included her full name, the name of her town, the name of the college she taught at, and a solicitation saying, “Hot for teacher? Come get it.”

Another victim’s (now ex-) husband brought her to a hotel room and drugged her. She had no memory of what happened but later found out that he and another man had raped her. She divorced him shortly after, and seven months later, he sent a video containing footage of the rape to the school board where she worked. She was fired from her job as a school superintendent immediately after the video was sent to her colleagues, and the police were still investigating the rape at the time of the interview.

Another victim’s ex-boyfriend set up hidden cameras around her home, and she ended the relationship shortly after discovering he was secretly filming her. After she broke up with him, he created a website and several social media pages using unflattering and nude photos of her from the footage.

In another example uncovered by this study, published in the academic journal Feminist Criminology, a fiancé’s ex-wife was visiting at their home because her fiancé had children with his ex-wife during their marriage. The ex-wife went through his tablet—which was not password protected—and found boudoir photos of C. She attempted to post them online from the tablet.

Another victim spoke through tears as she told her story of the impacts revenge porn had on her mental health:

"When the actual video was released, um, well, I can admit now that I was suicidal, and... to let you know how suicidal I was, I didn’t tell anybody because I knew if I told anyone that I just wanted to kill myself that they would try to stop me, so I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want anyone to stop me... I lost my reputation... financially I’m ruined, I lost my career, a 25-year stellar career... I had a doctorate degree. I lost everything. So, how did that make me feel? Um, devastated. I just don’t even have words to describe it. Horrifying, humiliated, embarrassed, betrayed, I mean, I just never thought that a man I had loved, I married him, he was my husband, I trusted him. How could he do something like this? So I just felt very, very worthless."

This study uncovered profound impacts on victims which included suicidality, PTSD, anxiety, and depression. The research revealed such striking similarities between the mental health effects of sexual assault and revenge porn for survivors, suggesting that revenge porn should be classified as a sexual offense.

Standard advice on how to prevent revenge porn includes that women should not send naked photos if they have not been in a relationship with the recipient for less than 1 year, and to only send naked photos if their face is not in the image. It would appear there also needs to be more legal resources, including laws in place to help those who have been affected by revenge porn, and, for example, the police taking it more seriously, and not judging or shaming victims.

Yet the horrendous stories of lives ruined uncovered by this recent research suggest even deeper changes are required in our society, including, perhaps, addressing the shame culture surrounding women’s bodies?

Dr. Peter Bruggen passed away in 2018. While this post was written by Dr. Raj Persaud, Dr. Bruggen's name is retained biographically as a tribute to his contributions overall. 

References

'Revenge porn new normal' after cases surge in lockdown. By Cristina Criddle, BBC Technology reporter.  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-54149682

Citron, D. K., & Franks, M. A. (2014). Criminalizing revenge porn. Wake Forest Law Review, 49, 345-391.

Revenge Porn and Mental Health: A Qualitative Analysis of the Mental Health Effects of Revenge Porn on Female Survivors. Samantha Bates. Feminist Criminology 1–21 © The Author(s) 2016 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1557085116654565

Stroud, S. R. (2014). The dark side of the online self: A pragmatist critique of the growing plague of revenge porn. Journal of Mass Media Ethics: Exploring Questions of Media Morality, 29, 168-183. doi:10.1080/08900523.2014.917976