Revenge porn is vile symptom of modern misogyny — but we now have a chance to stamp it out

Jailing those who share illicit photos without permission is a step in the right direction, but its our culture we need to tackle next

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The Independent Online

On Friday, a 21 year old father became the first person in Britain to be imprisoned for ‘revenge porn’ after he posted sexually explicit photos of an ex-girlfriend on Whatsapp without her consent.

According to the US-based End Revenge Porn campaign, one in ten ex-partners has threatened to post explicit photos of their partner online; 60% of those followed through on their threats. 90% of victims of revenge porn are women. Information from eight police forces in England and Wales which held data on the issue shows that there were 149 allegations of revenge porn made in the past two and a half years. Revenge porn is a gendered crime and it is disturbingly prevalent.

To see the application of new guidance from October about using existing harassment laws to prosecute for revenge porn is very encouraging; crucially, new amendments going through Parliament will soon make revenge porn a specific offence, with sentences of up to two years.

The distribution of sexually explicit videos and images of women without their consent is not a foolish joke. It is an active attempt to wield power over women by humiliating them and by taking away their privacy and sexual agency.

It is sexual harassment and it frequently goes hand in hand with emotional abuse and stalking. The consequences can be devastating: 93% of revenge porn victims said they have suffered “significant emotional distress” due to being a victim and half have been harassed or stalked online by users who saw the material. Victims have often found it difficult to have pictures and videos of themselves removed from the internet. Many victims are too afraid to come forward in the first place.

 

What kind of a culture has taught boys and men that this sort of behaviour is acceptable? It is a culture that views women’s bodies as commodities for our voyeuristic pleasure. From the intrusive photographs of Kate Middleton in 2012 to the celebrity nude photo leak just three months ago (commonly referred to as ‘The Fappening’), numerous high profile women have had their privacy violated in very high profile ways. In each case it generated a great deal of money and excitement, in part fuelled by the mainstream media.

It is a culture that tells women they are to blame for having explicit photos and videos distributed without their consent: online forums were flooded with comments criticising Jennifer Lawrence and her peers for having the nerve to own naked photographs of themselves. It is often forgotten that the much-maligned Kim Kardashian originally became famous because her privacy was violated over a sex tape leak. And it is a culture in which women are deemed responsible for protecting themselves from sexual abuse by not doing anything which could be exploited by the people who are never held to account for their actions.

Jennifer Lawrence was right to say that this kind of violation "is not a scandal. It is a sex crime”. Publishing explicit images and videos of someone without their consent is an affront to their privacy and bodily agency; Friday’s sentencing was a clear acknowledgement of this. The new guidance in England and Wales and the proposed amendment to the law are definitive steps towards empowering and protecting victims and reducing the prevalence of revenge porn. They won’t guarantee widespread cultural change on their own, but the sentencing has set an important legal precedent and the new, more specific laws will hopefully encourage more victims to come forward in the future.

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