After the Law — Why Revenge Porn is Still a Problem in the UK

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By Aleksey Boyko via Shutterstock.com

Violent crime is up 24 percent in England and Wales due in part to the inclusion of internet related offenses in the figures. According to the Office of National Statistics, the majority of the 24 percent spike can be attributed to increased victim reporting and better “recording standards” among police. This is especially true of violations related to revenge porn, which were specifically designated a criminal offence in 2015 and have been gradually gaining ground with coverage and awareness since.

Revenge Porn Has Become a Topic of Conversation for the Media

Aside from the 200+ prosecutions under the new law, it’s obvious that internet based sex crimes have found their way into popular media. The second season of the British TV series, Black Mirror, included an episode focused on illegal web-cam spying and exhortation, while the trailer for the new Trainspotting movie referenced revenge porn in an updated version of Irvine Welsh’s well-known “Choose” speech. It’s debatable how appropriate or realistic an image of revenge porn is portrayed by the entertainment industry, but any type of awareness means more victims come forward and more perpetrators are caught.

However, there’s still a long way to go. At ReputationDefender, we work with clients who are struggling to salvage their online reputation after the posting of explicit images or video. Many don’t know where to turn for help getting the material removed or dealing with the emotional backlash. Some may still be unaware that posting compromising images with the intent to harm is a criminal offence punishable by law.

The Revenge Porn Hotline

Laura Higgins recognized the growing problem of revenge porn some time ago. Hers was one of the activist voices that helped to push through the new law in the UK, and in February 2015 she founded a helpline to assist victims. The Revenge Porn Helpline takes calls Monday to Friday from 10 AM — 4 PM and victims can communicate by email any time. After a year and a half of operation, the service had taken 5,000 calls and helped to manage cases for 1,000 victims, yet there is still more work to be done.

According to Higgins, any type of conversation helps victims come forward, but it’s important not to normalize this behavior. Just because revenge porn is featured in movies and TV shows doesn’t make it any less of a crime. However, the growing recognition of revenge porn does help to further her goals. Higgins wants helpline callers to realize they belong to a community of people who’ve been hurt in this way. She believes it’s “empowering… that we are now all starting to tackle this together.”

Revenge Porn is a Global Industry

Despite the efforts to track down and punish individual perpetrators, revenge porn continues to grow as a global profiteering industry. There are many local and international sites that gear their advertisements toward men who want to share explicit pictures of ex-girlfriends or cheating wives. Others simply act as an anonymous image board where users can post images or request more pictures of a girl that interests them. The entries usually include the subject’s first name and the first initial of their last name, as well as location details like the the town where they live, so it’s not hard to discover the person’s real identity.

Yet revenge porn shouldn’t just be considered only a women’s problem. About a quarter of the helpline’s callers are men facing blackmail threats as the result of an illegally recorded sex tape. According to the police, these cases of “sextortion” are on the rise, adding a new dimension to the problem of revenge porn. A number of online gangs create fake female profiles that are convincing enough to make the victim believe they are interacting with a real person. After engaging in what appears to be private, consensual cybersex, the man subsequently discovers he has been videotaped. Higgins says these gangs “use all sorts of different techniques” to “build trust” quickly, and then ask for large amounts of money not to release the tape. She doesn’t recommend paying, as this will only escalate the demands.

Blame the Victim Attitude

To the victims, it makes little difference how the explicit material got online; the aftermath remains the same. Victims of revenge porn suffer reputation damage, struggle to maintain a marriage or long term relationship, and have difficulty re-establishing their career. These issues are often exacerbated because revenge porn is still seen as something of a trivial, teen-age problem.

Higgins says we still have a long way to go in the way we portray victims of revenge porn. Too often, they’re seen as “silly little girls” who shouldn’t have taken indecent selfies. Yet this stereotype negates the fact that internet communication has become an integral part of the way modern couples interact. Many adults become closer to their significant other by sharing intimate acts online and we shouldn’t automatically assume they are at fault when this trust is betrayed.

The fact is, it’s almost impossible to protect against all forms of revenge porn. Some images or video may have been taken without the subject’s consent or knowledge. Others were shared privately with a trusted partner who turned out to be unworthy. Blame should be directed at the perpetrator who illegally shared the images as well as the growing culture that profits from revenge porn, not the person hurt by the material.

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