From pleasure to ache: the actual harms of ‘revenge porn’

CN: Sexual assault, sexual violence, non-consensual picture sharing, digital sexual abuse, non-consensual nudes

For many individuals, enthusiastic about intercourse – after we would possibly do it, how we’d do it, who we’d do it with – is a daily a part of life. After all, the way in which we take into consideration and interact with intercourse in 2022 may be very totally different from the way it was even 20 years in the past, as a result of a lot of our interplay with others now occurs on-line. One of many key methods intercourse has modified is that taking and sending attractive photos has develop into normal inside sexual or sex-related communication. Apps comparable to Snapchat have been heralded as main the digital sexual revolution, offering options which profit sexters comparable to time-limited pictures and screenshot notifications. ‘Sending nudes’ is type of sexual expression which solely appears to be rising.

Whereas sharing attractive pics has develop into more and more widespread prior to now decade, it has an extended and diversified historical past. Sarah Goodridge, who in 1828 painted a picture of her own breasts to send to a man, acts as proof that we now have been doing this for no less than 200 years. When private cameras grew to become broadly accessible, it grew to become even simpler to take sexual express images for the pleasure of others. The Twitter account @whoresofyore (run by creator and tutorial Kate Lister, who we just lately spoke to about her new e book on the historical past of intercourse work) is a good supply to see proof of this. It collects and shares nude and pornographic pictures that additionally stretch way back to the 1800s, demonstrating that Victorians had been simply as sexual as we’re.

As cameras developed from polaroid to disposable to digital, it grew to become simpler to take photos in personal, creating the right local weather for nudes. With smartphones bringing high-quality cameras, high-speed web entry, social media networks and relationship apps proper into our pockets in 2022, sharing attractive content material has by no means been extra simple.

With this in thoughts, it’s hardly shocking that sending nudes is changing into increasingly widespread. A survey hosted by GQ stories that 40% of males aged 16-24 contemplate sending nudes ‘the brand new regular’; a daily and anticipated aspect of a sexual relationship. Another survey of single Individuals discovered that 38% of Era Z and 37% of millennials had despatched a sexual picture earlier than. Nearly half of all millennial girls in a YouGov study say they’ve acquired a ‘dick pic’, and, in a disappointing however unsurprising flip of occasions, 9 out of each 10 girls hadn’t requested it.

Whereas consensually sending attractive images to your associate is a superbly enjoyable and regular factor to do, there’s a darkish aspect to this apply. The time period ‘revenge pornography’ refers back to the act of sharing sexual imagery of an individual with out their consent. It might contain sharing the pictures or movies on social media, grownup web sites, or on websites that particularly host non-consensual sexual content material. Photographs are generally accompanied by different private particulars, together with names, addresses, universities, or workplaces. Others are uploaded anonymously, with the sufferer solely discovering out this content material has been shared in the event that they (or somebody they know) stumbles upon it by chance.

It’s tough to know the way many individuals have had sexual pictures shared with out consent. Some would possibly by no means develop into conscious that their pictures have been shared, and others, understandably, don’t need to focus on or report their expertise. For the Revenge Porn Helpline, a assist line for survivors, numbers appear to be increasing. As many as 18,700 instances had been reported to police in England and Wales between January 2018 and August 2021. Though anybody may be affected by revenge porn, 80% of those stories got here from girls. Some statistics additionally observe that members of the LGBT community are disproportionately affected. This downside is rising, with no signal of slowing down.

In UK regulation, sharing pictures with out consent isn’t classed as a sexual offence, which means that those that report will not be assured anonymity. As many are advocating, the harms of being affected by having sexual pictures shared with out consent may be big, and the expertise has greater than a little bit in widespread with different types of sexual violence

The cohort of people that have had sexual imagery shared with out consent incorporates many well-known alumni. Some argue that Marilyn Monroe is without doubt one of the first ever victims, after her nude pictures had been purchased and printed in Playboy by Hugh Hefner in 1953. Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee had their intercourse tape stolen and offered within the Nineteen Nineties, which has just lately been serialised (controversially) by HBO. Extra just lately, the celebrity hacking scandal in 2014 uncovered a number of actresses, fashions, and singers; Jennifer Lawrence notably informed Vainness Honest that the expertise felt like a ‘sexual violation’. Within the UK, actuality TV star Zara McDermott has spoken publicly about her a number of experiences of getting sexual pictures shared with out consent, in a documentary merely titled Revenge Porn.

Sadly, some who report their expertise of getting sexual pictures shared with out their consent are met with dismissal, ignorance and judgement. A lack of training on this subject throughout the police drive, mixed with unhelpful and harmful responses, is contributing to a local weather which limits the extent to which an affected individual would possibly discover justice. One survivor was informed, “well, at least you’ve learned your lesson now”, by the officer with whom she spoke. One other key facet of this phenomenon which limits justice is its authorized categorisation; in UK regulation, sharing pictures with out consent isn’t classed as a sexual offence, which means that those that report will not be assured anonymity. As many are advocating, the harms of being affected by having sexual pictures shared with out consent may be big, and the expertise has greater than a little bit in widespread with different types of sexual violence.

Sexual violence is not only bodily dangerous however has a long-lasting impression, leading to a lack of management over one’s physique and sexual autonomy, one thing which generally stays with these affected for years after their expertise. If we settle for that an individual has a proper to regulate entry to their physique, this rule shouldn’t change when contemplating pictures of the physique. Some types of sexual harassment, comparable to catcalling and flashing, don’t contain a bodily interplay at all- however are nonetheless thought of a part of a wider tradition that sexualises girls’s our bodies, and might depart an individual feeling threatened and fearful.

One other similarity between the 2 experiences is the response of most of the people. Revenge porn survivors are generally met with victim-blaming rhetoric, arguments comparable to “when you don’t need sexual photos to be circulated, you shouldn’t take them”. This declare isn’t so distant from the ever-familiar “you shouldn’t have been sporting that skirt”. Responses comparable to these place blame on the individual affected, fairly than addressing the broader social and cultural norms which permit sexual violence to exist unchecked, or the perpetrator of the hurt.

Whereas individuals ought to, in fact, be happy to take and share their very own nudes with out worry of them being handed on, this victim-blaming mentality additionally reductions the myriad methods wherein an individual may be victimised with out ever taking or sharing their nudes. Individuals like Georgia Harrison, who was recorded having intercourse on an indoor safety digital camera with out her data, or individuals like Gina Martin, who was ‘upskirted’ at a competition (and later went on to efficiently marketing campaign for the act to develop into unlawful), might have finished little or no to forestall their expertise. Even worse, this angle ignores footage that is perhaps taken throughout sexual assault, one thing that has occurred throughout a number of notable sexual assault trials, together with the Steubenville rape case. The rise of ‘deepfake’ porn – know-how that superimposes the face of an individual onto a picture or video – signifies that this content material may be created with out anybody photographing your physique in any respect. Anybody with entry to the best know-how and a photograph of your face can produce it. It’s clear that, very like with sexual violence, the issue lies not with the behaviour of the victims however with the behaviour of the perpetrators.

We don’t body different harms on this manner. There’s no such factor as a revenge assault, or a revenge housebreaking, as an example, as a result of even when these crimes had been motivated by revenge, it nonetheless isn’t an acceptable response

Even the way in which we discuss concerning the expertise as ‘revenge porn’ is a misnomer. The very time period ‘revenge’ means that the picture sharing has been finished in response to a perceived fallacious carried out by the survivor, a ‘well-they-started-it’ framing of the state of affairs. The image-sharing could also be initiated by one thing so simple as breaking apart together with your associate. As a tradition, we regularly take subject with girls prioritising their very own needs or wants over the individuals round them, however break ups (whereas generally messy and painful) are a routine a part of life. Responding to being dumped by your girlfriend by circulating her nudes is the grownup equal of throwing a tantrum, and is most undoubtedly an act of aggression fairly than revenge.

Curiously, we don’t body different harms on this manner. There’s no such factor as a revenge assault, or a revenge housebreaking, as an example, as a result of even when these crimes had been motivated by revenge, it nonetheless isn’t an acceptable response. Centring revenge on this manner not solely focuses on the act the survivor did to ‘deserve’ this publicity, however ignores different motives an individual might need outdoors of revenge. For instance, “collector culture” – a phenomenon wherein nude pictures of ladies are swapped, traded, and picked up on-line – isn’t essentially motivated by an intent to humiliate or harass the ladies depicted (though that is actually one of many outcomes), however is extra about voyeurism and sexual gratification.

As a result of the regulation specifies pictures have to be shared with “the intention of causing distress”, instances the place the perpetrator has purely voyeuristic intentions are going unprosecuted. One lady, who was capable of present police with a textual content message from her ex-boyfriend confessing to sharing her sexual pictures, was shocked to seek out it rendered her case unprosecutable as a result of he claimed within the textual content he had “never meant to hurt her”. Unsurprisingly, the information that the pictures weren’t shared maliciously was of little consolation to her, and did nothing to alleviate the sensation of being uncovered in such a manner.

Calling it ‘porn’ isn’t fairly proper both. Whereas pornography isn’t the best time period to outline – age, tradition, and private style have an effect on what we contemplate as pornographic – the time period usually refers to express, industrial content material. As Sophie Maddocks argues, ‘the time period pornography conflates personal visible materials with public content material meant for mass consumption’. Framing sexual pictures taken in secret for a personal and personally chosen viewers as ‘pornography’ is at greatest inaccurate, and at worst merciless. Calling these stolen pictures ‘porn’ additionally legitimatises them and affords a venue for them to be shared on-line, with grownup web sites comparable to PornHub having just lately come under fire for permitting stolen sexual content material to be shared on their web site underneath the guise of ‘novice pornography’.

As a society, it’s so essential that we start to alter the dialogue round revenge porn. The harms and impression of the expertise are made even worse by a tradition which sees it as voyeurism fairly than violation. Contemplate how a lot hurt is attributable to all of the additional people who seek for, view, and share revenge porn content material. There are, nevertheless, steps being taken to make sure non-consensual sexual picture sharing is taken critically. Reframing the act as ‘intimate picture abuse’ or ‘digital sexual abuse’, as many are now doing, is starting to shift our rhetoric across the expertise. These phrases prioritise the expertise of the individual affected, and don’t sexualise or sensationalise the act of picture sharing.

It’s already so tough for ladies to have optimistic relationships with their sexuality. Between attempting to tread the fragile (learn: non-existent) line between ‘slut’ and ‘prude’, embracing your individual physique picture, and navigating the risks of sexual violence, intercourse is a turbulent taking part in discipline. However sending nudes consensually is a enjoyable and wholesome manner for an individual to precise their sexuality, and ladies shouldn’t be punished for it.


Picture description: Two palms maintain a telephone within the place of somebody trying on the display screen. The palms and telephone are nicely lit, and the individual wears silver rings and nude nail polish. The remainder of the picture is dimly lit, so you can’t see the remainder of the individual or a lot of the background.

Picture credit score: Pricilla Du Preez, free to make use of underneath the Unsplash license.