It’s every woman’s worst nightmare.
Explicit images of yourself plastered all over the internet.
And it’s happening to more and more women.
Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Rihanna. Public figures like prosecutor Marcia Clark and congresswoman Katie Hill. Millions of ordinary women.
One in 25 Americans online has been a victim of or threatened with nonconsensual pornography, popularly known as “revenge porn.”
If you’re a young woman, your chances skyrocket. One in 10 women under the age of 30 has been threatened with having private pictures of themselves posted online. Overall, 90% of victims are female.
Although the term suggests that the images are published as an act of revenge, not all perpetrators are disgruntled exes. Some are hackers who find ways to access images stored in the cloud or infect computers with malware. They may have no personal connection to you at all…
But that doesn’t mean their actions aren’t just as devastating.
Over a third of victims report that the images harmed them professionally. Nearly all report severe emotional distress. Half are so distressed that they even consider suicide.
Revenge porn destroys lives. But the law may not protect you.
Although most states now have revenge porn laws on their books, the laws are not easy to enforce. Some states, including California, require proof that the images were posted with malicious intent. The perpetrator may get no more than a slap on the wrist.
No wonder most victims just want to put it behind them. They want the images to disappear and to get on with their lives.
But can they?
The Dangers of Life Online
As a victim of cyber harassment myself, I can attest to how difficult it is to stop someone who’s determined to hurt you online.
Harassers have post verbal attacks and death threats on my public Facebook page. They’ve used my private email address to sign me up for dozens of newsletter lists. They’ve posted abusive comments on my YouTube channel.
Some would say that it’s the price I pay for having a public presence online. If I don’t want to be harassed, I should take down my social media profiles and stay off the internet.
But others argue that this perspective harms women, who are overwhelmingly the victims of cyber harassment.
Harassers usually operate anonymously or under a pseudonym, protecting them from repercussions. Their victims, on the other hand, experience very real repercussions. These women are operating online with their real names, real jobs, and real lives. They can’t just go offline and disappear.
Journalist Amanda Hess writes:
No matter how hard we attempt to ignore it, this type of gendered harassment—and the sheer volume of it—has severe implications for women’s status on the Internet. Threats of rape, death, and stalking can overpower our emotional bandwidth, take up our time, and cost us money through legal fees, online protection services, and missed wages.”
Was It Your Fault?
It wasn’t all that long ago that rape victims were blamed for “attracting trouble” by wearing short skirts or drinking or walking home alone.
Today, we know that’s victim blaming. It’s unacceptable.
But victim blaming is alive and well when it comes to revenge porn.
It’s the woman’s fault, the thinking goes, because she allowed those nude pictures to be taken of her in the first place.
The people who think that way must have never been on Instagram (or Facebook, or Tumblr, or Snapchat). Provocative pictures get the bulk of likes and comments. Showing some skin online isn’t shocking; it’s de rigueur.
- Nearly two-thirds of teenage girls have been pressured to provide nude pictures of themselves.
- Nine out of 10 millennial women have taken naked pictures of themselves, and 8 out of 10 would do it again.
So the answer is not to shame women into a chaste and buttoned up existence online.
The answer is to give victims tools to get those images offline as fast as possible and block the perpetrator from doing it again.
Help and Support for Revenge Porn Victims
If you’ve ever exchanged private pictures with an ex, chances are he’s still got them. Half of all adults save those racy images and messages on their unsecured mobile phones. You may trust your ex, but what if someone else gets hold of his phone?
And if he’s threatening to post those pictures, take him seriously. There’s a 60% chance he’ll go ahead and do so.
So get help now. Find out what you can do to protect yourself.
Your first stop should be the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. They offer a free helpline as well as a guide to getting content taken off major websites like Facebook, Instagram, Google, and Snapchat.
If you want more detailed advice on how the law might be able to protect you, Without My Consent offers an extensive guide to preserving evidence, filing documents, and navigating the laws in all 50 states.
There’s also Women Against Revenge Porn, Badass (Battling Against Demeaning and Abusive Selfie Sharing), and agencies that will help scrub the internet clean of your images for a fee.
Do you think the government needs to do more to protect victims of revenge porn and cyber harassment? Join the conversation in the comments!