Every time Cathy meets someone new, she has to wonder if they’ve seen her naked.

Update: 

Under a new proposal, distributors of so-called ‘revenge porn’ could face jail time in Australia.

Labor will introduce a bill to parliament next week, which would make it a federal offence to distribute, or threaten to distribute, privately obtained sexual images or videos- with a maximum penalty of up to three years in prison.

People who run websites facilitating such distribution could face even harsher penalties — up to five years — and those who attempt to use images for extortion or blackmail may also be prosecuted.


 

For victims of revenge porn, there are very few options.

Every time 40-year-old Cathy meets someone new, she wonders whether they have seen her naked.

Hundreds of thousands of people have. Maybe more, she doesn’t actually know.

Cathy was divorced with two children when pictures of her and her contact details appeared on a ‘revenge porn’ site. The pictures showed her in acrobatic nude poses that made her look like a seasoned porn star. She first she knew of it was when she started receiving messages from online porn enthusiasts wanting more photos. Then they started contacting her work.

For more: To the 500 Adelaide women who’ve had their nude photos stolen: You are not to blame. 

Cathy was terrified that she would lose custody of her children. She quit her job, moved cities and started using her maiden name again to get away from the embarrassment and the fear that people would see the pictures.

Perhaps the most distressing thing is this: Cathy had never taken a nude photo of herself. She’d never sent a nude photo, nor had one ever been taken of her. Nor had she ever been hacked. Someone had simply found a picture of her face online and photo-shopped her into porn scenes. And despite desperately trying to have the image removed from the ‘revenge porn’ website, she has never been able to.

revenge porn in Australia
Despite desperately trying to have the image removed from the website, Cathy has never succeeded.

Revenge porn – the online distribution of nude and topless photos without consent in order to humiliate and hurt women – is surprisingly common. One in 10 former partners threaten to post sexually explicit images of their exes online, and an estimated 60 percent follow through. Over 90 percent of victims are women.

There are currently about 3000 websites hosting ‘revenge porn’ images, but many other images are shared through social media or directly between users. Within days of an image being posted, it can dominate the first three pages of an internet search of a victim’s name.

Watch John Oliver deliver an epically scathing response to the idea of revenge porn. 


Just last week in Australia, 500 women from Adelaide had nude images stolen and posted to a ‘revenge porn’ website in the United States. Those sites are now taking requests to photo-shop these women’s images into degrading sexual scenes.

Revenge porn – or more accurately, ‘nonconsensual pornography’ – often plays a role in family violence, where an abuser might use the threat of release of nude photos to stop a partner from leaving.

Two days ago in the UK, a TV star named Duncan Bannatyne allegedly threatened to publicly release naked pictures of his ex-partner, former-Miss Great Britain Michelle Evans, because she asked him to contribute to childcare costs for her son. She sent him a message about contributing to the costs and he allegedly replied: “Really? You are happy with me showing the pictures you sent me?” Evans now lives in fear: “I feel like he has a huge amount of power over me. It kills me that Duncan still has those pictures”.

revenge porn in Australia
Former beauty queen Michelle Evans

Stealing, distributing and viewing these stolen images is a form of sexual assault, and the damage done to victims is devastating. The images are often uploaded by an angry ex-partner, an opportunistic hacker or rapist with identifying information about the victim, including their full name, contact details, employer and home address.

The people who visit these websites then take this information and use it to harass women, not only directly bombarding them with abuse, but also sending the images to their employers, their partners and their families. Ninety-three percent of victims say that they have suffered severe emotional distress as a result of these sites, and there have been at least two suicides directly linked to revenge porn. A staggering 53 percent of victims have considered suicide as a result of revenge porn.

Perhaps one of the most well-known examples of the psychological devastation that is associated with the sharing of non-consensual pornography is the tragic case of teenager, Audrie Potts. Audrie was a highschooler who got drunk at a party. While she was passed out, her classmates drew crude images and words on her body and digitally penetrated her. The assault was recorded on smart phones. Audrie woke the next morning, unaware of the incident but covered in ink. When she went to school the next day, messages flooded Audrie’s inbox saying things like: “u were one horny mofo”, “honestly like really no joke everyone knows. . . .”, and “lol that shit gets around haha everyone knows mostly everything hahaah”. Audrie sent a message to one of her classmates: “”My life is over. . . . I ruined my life and I don’t even remember how.” Audrie took her own life that afternoon.

revenge porn in Australia
Audrie Pott took her own life after falling victim to revenge porn.

Sex traffickers have been known to use ‘revenge porn’ to keep women enslaved. In Chicago in 2012, the courts heard that a human trafficker named Alex Campbell kept a woman named “Sarah” working as a prostitute by forcing her to perform sexual acts with another woman while Campbell filmed it. He threatened to send the video to “Sarah’s” family if she ever attempted to escape.

Revenge porn has also been used by rapists who have filmed the rape and use the footage as a threat to stop their victim reporting it.

Revenge porn has been notoriously hard to police – the copyright in the image belongs to the person who took the photo, and websites who host the photos aren’t liable for content provided by others (unless it is child pornography).

In addition, law enforcement have been historically unhelpful. A victim named “Jane”, whose ex-husband posted online pictures and videos that were taken on their honeymoon said that she struggled to get the police to pay attention. “They said, ‘Next time don’t be identifiable if you choose to do something like this,'” Jane said. One of the videos of Jane has been viewed a million times. She describes the impact on her life as akin to being physically violated: “I describe it [as] similar to maybe the feeling of getting raped — you feel like you’re that exposed,” she said. “You feel like a million people are watching … the most intimate moment of your life.”

revenge porn in Australia
Victims of revenge porn describe the experience as similar to being physically violated.

Last week, police in Australia were quick to tell the 500 victims of the revenge porn hacking that they really should have been more careful. A South Australian police spokesperson said, “it is timely to stress that uploading of images and texts are done in an instant and often without thinking about the long-term effects”.

That’s a shame – because neighbouring Victoria has some of the best legislation in the world for preventing revenge porn. Victorian laws enacted in 2013 outlaw the sharing of intimate imagery, texts or videos of an ex-partner with the intent to cause harm or distress. It also makes it illegal to threaten to distribute the images.

However, those laws don’t protect women from being hacked (as was the case for most of the victims in South Australia) and it doesn’t help to get the images down from the offending websites, especially when the websites and the hackers are located overseas.

Victims can approach the websites directly to remove the images, but when a South Australian woman attempted to do that last week, she was told by the website administrator: “F— off you autistic whore … you cannot do anything to stop us”. Some sites have agreed to take the stolen images down, but only if the victim pays an exorbitant cost.

Google announced over the weekend that was going to take steps to protect people who have their images stolen and placed on these revenge porn sites. Google can’t do anything about the images actually being on the sites – but the tech-company will help victims of revenge porn sites to make sure their image does not appear in any searches done using the Google Search engine.

revenge porn in Australia
Google will ensure that revenge porn results do not appear when a prospective employer searches for a name.

Every time a potential employer Googles an applicant, a nude picture won’t be the first thing they see. It’s not much, but it will help.

Non-consensual pornography is not a new phenomenon. But the public response tends to be the same – to tell women not to allow themselves to be photographed or to not share intimate photos of themselves.

Revenge porn is a risk to all women – whether they take or share nude photos or not. Even a woman who has never taken a nude photo can be hacked and photo-shopped. Policing and punishing the behaviour of women will not prevent revenge porn.

The focus must be on those who steal private images, the ex-partners and others who share images without consent, the hackers, the extortionists, the people who visit revenge porn websites, the people who take the information on those websites to humiliate and harass women, the website administrators, the people who make money from the images stolen from women, the photoshoppers, the rapists, the abusers, the bullies.

These are the criminals. They’re the ones we need to stop.

Are you afraid of becoming a victim of revenge porn?

Read more:

To the 500 women who had their nude pics stolen: You are not to blame.

The very good reason this woman is posting nude pictures of herself online.

When home-made porn is used as a weapon.

Do you think revenge porn laws in Australia need to change?

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