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Sexual Abuse

The First 12 Hours After Online Image-Based Sexual Abuse

Online activity shapes the discourse around this emergent type of sexual harm.

Key points

  • Sharing intimate images of another person without prior consent has immediate and long-lasting impacts.
  • Online repsonses can be derogatory, sexualized, and victim-blaming in nature.
  • A broad portion of the general public understands the criminal nature of these behaviors and condemns them.

This post is co-authored with Dr. Dean Fido (Associate Professor of Forensic Psychology; University of Derby)

On 30 April 2024, former actor turned politician, Laurence Fox, shared a sexually explicit photograph of female presenter Narinder Kaur on social media platform X (formerly Twitter). The image was an upskirting shot (capturing the genitals of Ms. Kaur as she was leaving a vehicle), which was shared without her consent.

Seemingly, Fox posted this image as a direct response to Ms. Kaur criticising right-wing commentator Leilani Dowding for her previous appearances on Page 3 of one U.K. newspaper (historically, but no longer, reserved to showcase topless and/or provocative images of consenting women). The image remained live for 24 hours before being taken down, during which time it made 215k impressions (views), including being re-posted over 400 times and receiving 2.5k "likes."

Despite this behaviour not technically falling under U.K. legislation related to upskirting (i.e., the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019), because the image was not captured by Fox himself, recent amendments to the Sexual Offences Act (2003) through the Online Safety Act (2023) mean that someone found guilty of sharing intimate images without consent could face up to six months in custody.

The Impact of Image-Based Sexual Abuse

Psychological research into image-based sexual abuse (IBSA; the non-consensual capture, generation, and/or sharing of intimate images) has grown exponentially over the last decade. Despite debates as to the motives to commit IBSA and the personality traits which predict somebody’s likelihood of engaging in such behaviour, what is consistent from this research are the immediate and long-lasting consequences for somebody having their intimate images shared without their consent.

In addition to suffering a constellation of social consequences (e.g., being shamed by family and losing trust in friends) and professional consequences (e.g., being overlooked for employment because of internet search results), such individuals also experience a host of mental and physical health consequences. Stress, anxiety, and depression are commonly reported, alongside notable reports of self-harm and even suicide.

In part, some of this response might stem from believing the general public will have and voice harsh and victim-blaming attitudes — such as why the victim sent the images in the first place. Though such attitudes have been captured by research across the globe, never before have immediate responses to such viral IBSA been reported on. In the context of upcoming peer-reviewed research into this event, we briefly comment on the tone of public responses to Fox’s post here.

Responses on X (formerly Twitter)

Of the 314 replies that were posted 12 hours after the initial image was published, 48% featured derogatory comments targeted towards Ms. Kaur, which referenced either the appearance, scent, or feel of her genitals, or which indicated their “disgust” — not at the original post or poster — but at the victim themselves. In many cases a combination of emojis and memes were used to direct unwarranted shame towards the victim, and on 16 occasions posters went as far to "@" Ms. Kaur directly in their abusive posts so as to increase the likelihood that their comment would be seen by the victim.

Of concern, eight posts directly supported the behaviour of Fox in circulating this image (e.g., “This is going to go viral – just don’t get banned over it 🤣”) with a further 12 posts going on to describe how this image made them want to perform sexual acts on the victim: “Didn’t think I’d say this but she’s making me hard.”

Twenty posts also suggested that Ms. Kaur herself was at fault for the images being share. Such commenters either validated the post by referring to her as a “hypocrite whose Tweets [sic] were nasty” or emphasised her role in the images being captured in the first place: “The paparazzi have always taken pics like that, why did she go out like that?” Some even went further to propose – without reason – that “Narinder the exhibitionist knew what she was doing” and even made inferences as to her preparation for sexual relations later that day.

Hope and Support

It is encouraging, nonetheless, that 27% of replies either condemned the actions of Fox for sharing the intimate images (e.g., “This is abhorrent, and low even for you, are your boys proud of you?”) or made specific comment on the legality of the act (“This is revenge porn – I hope you’re sued again”). Indeed, 27 individual posts sought to bring the image to the attention of the Metropolitan Police directly, with a further 6 posting screenshots of the legislation.

But, on a platform where people can direct hate anonymously with no repercussions and without any empathic investment into the harm that such responses might elicit, it feels increasingly difficult to combat IBSA. There is a clear need to educate the public on this timely issue.

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