Revenge porn is a uniquely modern phenomenon that shines a light on a fundamental flaw in how we approach consent, the internet, and acceptable behaviors in dating and relationships.

Equivalent to ‘digital rape,’ the nonconsensual sharing of sexual media can ruin lives – and often does.

But how does revenge porn happen? Where did it come from? And what motivates someone to take such a harmful action against a partner (or stranger)?

Academic research of – and advocacy against – revenge porn is still in its infancy, but researchers and support groups are finally learning about the behavioral trends behind the issue.

In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • A definition of revenge porn and other forms of “nonconsensual image abuse.”
  • Demographic statistics about victims and perpetrators (with some surprising results)
  • The rising incidence of revenge porn during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Existing laws against revenge porn and the current state of law enforcement
  • Resources for revenge porn victims, including both legal and advocacy services
  • How to protect yourself digitally from predator hackers

Background

The rapid growth of the internet has created many fundamental changes in our lives over the last three decades.

As the worldwide web gained mainstream adoption in the 90s, two innovations quickly exploited the new technology: online dating and pornography.

In more recent years, faster internet and better technology have given us social media, cloud storage, file sharing, tube sites, and much more. All of these have had a demonstrably positive impact. But there is a dark side to shifting so much of our lives online.

Take, for example, dating and sex. The internet has blurred the lines of what’s acceptable and healthy behavior, while reducing accountability for actions that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

‘Sharing’ is now a fundamental part of any experience for most young people – even sex. Sexting, nude selfies, and sexual videos have all gained mainstream acceptance as an essential part of dating.

Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the dangers of sharing such explicit, intimate media with someone they’re dating.

Meanwhile, the proliferation of pornography has created a warped sense of consent amongst many young people – especially boys and men.

Finally, we’ve reached a tipping point in dating and relationships. The Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift to online dating, with many people stuck at home now seeking partners on apps and websites.

The Rise of Revenge Porn

All of this has created a perfect storm of unhealthy behavior that is having a profoundly harmful effect on young people. You’ve probably heard of ‘revenge porn’ – a worrying trend that has gained more mainstream attention in the last few years.

Unfortunately, while it’s an effective, attention-grabbing phrase, it hides the full extent of the issue. Nonconsensual sharing of sexual imagery is a growing problem, and it’s not always motivated by revenge.

And contrary to popular belief, it’s a problem that affects everyone – no matter their gender, sexuality, age, or background.

But revenge porn and its associated offenses are a new phenomenon. Governments, law enforcement, private companies are struggling to keep up and find ways to meaningfully tackle the issue – while protecting victims.

Meanwhile, activists, victims, and support groups say the issue is only getting worse, despite the increasing focus. They cite lack of adequate research and funding, misalignment between various stakeholders, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue as the biggest obstacles to overcome.

With this in mind, I’ve scoured all the latest research and clinical studies on revenge porn and contacted numerous people involved in fighting it to create a comprehensive guide to the current state of revenge porn and efforts to curtail it.

I want to help stem the tide of nonconsensual image abuse, hold perpetrators legally and civilly accountable for an action that is essentially digital rape, and help everyone involved better understand the problem.

Understanding Consent – No Means No

No means — not-ever, no-way, no-how… NO!

Why should this response to having your nude image shared online be any different than being physically raped?

It’s not.

So when a close partner thinks, “Ahh, (s)he’ll never mind, or (s)he’ll get over it,” and goes against your wishes—that’s effectively rape.

Victims Are Not to Blame

Before we go any further, I’d like to address any victims of revenge porn directly.

The term “revenge porn” implies that a victim provoked the predator into sharing their partner’s nude photo on the internet.

In the end, I want to assure you that:

  • You are not alone as a revenge porn victim.
  • And you’ve done nothing wrong in sharing a nude image of yourself to a romantic partner, or even to an online stranger who then compromised your trust.

And, again, you have many outstanding advocacy and legal groups on your side. Don’t let the embarrassment or shame of being victimized stop you from pursuing justice.

The Problem with Victim-Blaming

Unfortunately, the shame and embarrassment around revenge porn make it extremely difficult to gather accurate statistics on the true extent of incidents, as offenses are vastly under-reported.

There are always two parties involved in revenge porn: the victim and the perpetrator.

The distinction between the two is relatively straightforward—black and white, hot and cold, good and bad.

However, you will still hear people saying: “Why would anyone take a nudie of him/herself if it meant that someone might spread it on the internet?”

Does the victim want to become victimized?

I’ll touch on the psychology of intimacy sharing later, but the most important for you, the victim, is that it’s not your fault for having a healthy sexual attitude.

Why do people victim blame?

  • ’You shouldn’t have taken those pictures.’
  • ‘Well, there wouldn’t be revenge porn if women didn’t make the porn, to begin with.’
  • ‘What kind of person sends their partners nudes and expects them to stay private?!’
  • ‘Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. If you take the pictures, you deserve to have them posted.’

Anyone who has discussed revenge porn and other forms of intimate image abuse will be familiar with such statements. Often, even people who support the fight against revenge porn still feel the victim (usually a girl or young woman) is partially to blame.

There are a few reasons someone can hold these conflicting points of view simultaneously:

Some people just “don’t get it.” Either they’re not aware intimate image abuse is a serious form of sexual trauma and abuse. Or they may come from a society or family where these issues aren’t discussed, or they’re from a generation that never sexted or took nude images.

Even good people are vulnerable to implicit, toxic views and biases. Open sexuality, sex positivity, and consent are still taboo subjects in many societies. Women’s sexuality is still heavily demonized (i.e., slut-shaming), while young men are given massive benefit of the doubt when they commit an act of sexual abuse (see the Brock Turner case, for example)

Bad things happen to good people. The idea that any of us could be victimized or horrifically abused for no reason is a terrifying idea most people are afraid to consider. As a result, when hearing about an incident of revenge porn, sexual abuse, or rape, many people will try to find fault in the victim to create a distance and assure themselves it could never happen to them.

The Impact of Victim Blaming on Society

Regardless of the motivation or reasoning, victim-blaming is extremely problematic and harmful behavior.

It significantly adds to the guilt, shame, and trauma a victim is already experiencing, and makes them more reluctant to report being attacked. They’ll be less likely to get the help and support they need and deserve.

It also spares abuser of any responsibility and accountability for harming their victim. They are more likely to repeat the behavior on additional victims, consequence-free.

So, before commenting on a story about revenge porn, saying it’s the victim’s fault—stop for a moment. Analyze your feelings, intentions, and justifications for holding this point of view. Think of the people you know who may have been a victim. How they would feel knowing you think they deserve their pain and trauma. Consider the example you’re setting for people who read the comments. Lead by example and show compassion for the victim.

Place the blame where it belongs: squarely in the lap of anyone who shares the intimate images or media without consent.

1. “Revenge Porn” is an Umbrella Term for Numerous Offenses

While revenge porn often occurs “following the dissolution of a romantic relationship as a way in which to control the victim or ‘punish’ her/him for leaving,” not all such incidents are motivated by revenge.

If you’ve ever taken a nude selfie or been enticed into making a sexual video, you’re at risk of having it shared on the internet without your consent —through hackers, strangers, or extortionists.

For this reason, advocacy groups, activists, and researchers use many alternative terms for what’s commonly known as “revenge porn”:

  • Nonconsensual pornography (NCP)
  • Image-based sexual abuse (IBSA)
  • Digital image abuse (DIA)
  • Intimate image abuse (IIA)
  • Technology-based image abuse (TBIA)
  • Technology-facilitated Abuse (TFA)
  • Intimate photo abuse (IPA)
  • Nude image abuse (NIA)

The various terms and acronyms make discussing revenge porn incredibly confusing.

This lack of simple phrasing results from differing views and disagreements between the various parties involved in studying and campaigning against revenge porn. Both of these fields are still in their infancy, and, over time, we can expect a more cohesive language to emerge.

To make this guide easy to follow, we’ll use the phrase “revenge porn” and ‘intimate image abuse’ to encompass all forms of abuse usually associated with the nonconsensual sharing of sexual media for various motivations.

Defining Intimate Image Abuse

Intimate image abuse includes much more than vengeful, bitter partners who want to punish an ex for the end of their relationship.

The eSafety Commissioner of the Australian Government defines an intimate image (or video) as one that shows:

  • A person’s genital area or anal area (whether bare or covered by underwear).
  • A person’s breasts (if the person identifies as female, transgender, or intersex).
  • Private activity (for example, a person undressing, using the bathroom, showering, bathing, or engaged in sexual activity).
  • A person without attire of religious or cultural significance if they would normally wear such attire in public.

An Australian study defines intimate image abuse as:

  • The nonconsensual creation of nude or sexual images, including images that are digitally altered or manipulated to add a person’s face to a pre-existing nude or sexual image, as well as the nonconsensual creation of intimate images (e.g., ‘upskirting,’ ‘downblousing,’ or surreptitious filming in public or private places).
  • The nonconsensual distribution of nude or sexual images.
  • Threats to distribute nude or sexual images.

The three main types of revenge porn and Intimate image abuse perpetrators include:

  • Current partners (including domestic abusers) and ex-partners of victims
  • Hackers (voyeurs or cyberbullies)
  • Sextortionists

This last category deserves a side discussion, because this group has become a growing problem (particularly during the pandemic).

Finally, most experts agree that under certain circumstances, the nonconsensual sharing of sexual imagery doesn’t qualify as revenge porn or intimate image abuse. Examples include:

  • It is not revenge porn if someone shares a sexual or private photograph or video of you to prevent, detect or investigate a crime.
  • Laws state that “it is not revenge porn if the photograph or video is shared for journalism”—as part of a news story if the “journalist sharer” reasonably believed it was in the public interest.
  • It’s not revenge porn if a person or organization (website) believes that it had already been shared or published—with your consent and that you had been paid. (ie. you signed a contract allowing the images to be shared).

What is Sextortion?

Sextortion can be defined as webcam blackmail for money or sexual-image favors.

It essentially consists of three different scenarios:

1. Enticement

Victims get a message from a stranger, along with an attractive photo, who says that they are interested in getting to know the victim better – in-person via webcam.

Curiosity, boredom, or loneliness gets the better of the victim, so they set up a Skype or Zoom call.

During the call, the sextortionist convinces the victim to get nude or to perform a sexual act.

Once the sextortionist has the nude image or act on camera, they can show it back to the victim and threaten to broadcast his/her image or sexual act over the internet—or share it with family, friends, or co-workers—unless the victim sends some money.

Research shows that an alarming 45 percent of perpetrators carry out their threats.

The sextortionist then sets up the money exchange (usually demanded in Bitcoin, to complicate things and hide their tracks).

Many victims of sextortion-by-enticement are driven to suicide as a result of being victimized.

Sextortion also occurs as a result of hacking.

2. Phishing Emails

Victims receive an email informing them that their account has been hacked. The hackers use details like the victim’s email address and account passwords obtained on the dark web (the result of an unrelated hack) to convince them of their legitimacy.

The sextortionist will claim to have hacked the victim’s webcam and recorded them masturbating while visiting porn sites.

If a victim actually has visited such sites, they may be convinced and give in to the demands – usually money or performing a sexual act that can be used to blackmail them further.

However, in almost every case like this, the sextortionist is bluffing and has no recordings. This type of fraud is known as phishing, and can be used in many different forms by hackers.

3. Piracy

Hackers also actively target websites and private accounts to steal nude images and videos. This includes private webcam chat rooms and personal-email account hacks. If a hacker gets into your email account, they can steal nude photos or insert malware that allows them to control your webcam.

A famous example of such a hack was the Celebgate scandal. In 2014, a male hacker broke into the iCloud accounts of famous female celebrities and posted stolen nude photos online.

2. Revenge Porn Studies Include Some Surprising Insights

Unfortunately, rigorous academic research and studies of revenge porn and intimate image abuse are still in their infancy.

The major helplines and advocacy groups are already too overwhelmed simply trying to provide support to victims.

But two studies undertaken in Australia and the USA in 2019 are putting a more human face on victims – and perpetrators – than ever before.

Each study has some shortcomings, but they’ve laid an invaluable groundwork for more research and provide some enlightening statistics.

For one, it’s clear from these two studies – which, combined, surveyed over 7,000 people from various demographics, ranging in age from 16 to 97 – that intimate image abuse is a problem that affects all humans, regardless of their gender, sexuality, age, or any other demographic differentials.

Overview

The studies provide us with plenty of evidence that, as online dating grows in popularity, the problem of intimate image abuse will continue to grow alongside this trend.

  • 74 % of adults engage in online dating or sexual intimacy.
  • Up to 1 in 5 adults are victims of revenge porn.
  • At least 1 in 10 adults are perpetrators of revenge porn.

Aside from revenge, it appears that intimate image abuse is an increasingly common form of domestic abuse against current and former partners.

According to the first study:

  • 71% of victims report that a current or previous romantic partner had posted a nude image.
  • 65% of the perpetrators reported that their victim was also a current or ex-lover.
  • 31% of victims said that the perpetrator was a current partner
  • 39% of perpetrators said their victim was a current partner.

Aside from partners, other perpetrators included “friends, acquaintances, former friends, family members, and co-workers.”

However, a significant number of respondents had their images or videos shared by strangers or unknown perpetrators:

  • 16% of victims said their image was posted by a stranger (or were unsure of who posted it)
  • 23% of perpetrators said they posted a nude photo of a stranger.

Based on this, a worrying trend emerges.

While most revenge porn and intimate image abuse is the work of partners, it can also occur due to hacking. However, regardless of the origins, plenty of people who view revenge porn or receive it are happy to share it without considering the victim’s wellbeing – creating a ‘revenge porn chain.’

There is some support for this notion in one last statistic of interest: victims reported a mean of 1.26 perpetrators.

Key takeaways:

  • The vast majority of people across all age groups have engaged in some form of internet dating.
  • Not all intimate image abuse perpetrated by partners is ‘revenge porn’ – it can also be a form of domestic abuse.
  • The sharing of revenge porn by people unrelated to the original offense, and perhaps even strangers to the victim, is another issue that needs addressing.

Gender and Sexuality

The most surprising results from both studies focus on gender.

Based on the data, it appears that men are much more likely to be both victims and perpetrators of intimate image abuse and revenge porn.

Men are 2-3 times more likely to commit revenge porn, and twice as likely to be victims.

In other words, people in relationships with men (bi-sexual and heterosexual women, LGBTQ+ men) are more vulnerable to victimization than those in relationships with women.

The two studies vary considerably when it comes to reporting incidents of intimate image abuse or seeking support.

Reporting Abuse

In both cases, most victims did not seek any help after victimization.

For women, the most common reasons were “I was embarrassed” and “I was afraid.” Most men selected “It didn’t bother me” as the reason for not seeking help.

However, in Study 1, women were more likely to report, and in Study 2, men were more likely.

This disparity is probably the result of cultural differences between the study groups.

Intimate Image Abuse in the LGBTQ+ Community

While the majority of respondents in both studies identified as heterosexual, LGBTQ+ groups were also represented. There are some shortcomings in the data, but it still reveals some crucial insights. For example:

  • In Study 1, lesbian women and gay men have the two lowest victimization and perpetration rates.
  • In Study 2, lesbian/bisexual women and gay/bisexual men have higher victimization rates than heterosexual men and women.
  • Bisexual men comprise a large percentage of both victims and perpetrators in both studies. Their large percentage in both categories drives up rates of victimization and perpetration among men in general.

Based on the two studies’ findings, we can speculate that lesbian and gay populations represent a minority of victims and perpetrators in the LGBT+ population. The largest majorities are in the bisexual groups – those who engage in sexual and romantic relationships with men.

Of course, we need more precise, more methodologically sound demographic research to confirm this.

Key takeaways:

  • Men are victimized as much as women, yet they’re also the primary perpetrators.
  • More focus on intimate image abuse targeting LGBT+ men is needed.
  • In all groups, rates of reporting abuse are incredibly low.

Age

Combined, the two studies surveyed people between the ages of 16-97. Their findings can be summarized as follows:

  • The most common “age at first victimization” is 18 years old – but people reported cases as early as 15.
  • Young people account for the majority of perpetrators and victims. The highest rates for both were between 15-29 years. This included distributing images without consent.
  • However, 2% of the victims in Study 1 were an average of 75 years old.

Physically Challenged Groups Must Be Part of Any Future Demographic Research

Another vulnerable group is those who either “always” or “sometimes” need assistance with their daily living activities, body movement activities, and/or communication needs.

Of those in Study 2 who reported these challenges, more than half (56%) reported experiencing at least one form of intimate image abuse.

  • 53 % reported that someone had taken a nude or sexual image without their permission
  • 42 % reported that such an image had been distributed
  • 41 % said that they had experienced threats relating to the distribution of nude or sexual images.

These findings are more disturbing than victimization rates among non-challenged individuals. The incidence rates among challenged individuals is pure exploitation, akin to other crimes against such vulnerable populations like children and youngsters, at risk of pedophilia and sex trafficking.

3. COVID-19 Has Caused An Increased in revenge porn

In March 2020, experts predicted an explosion in the number of online daters as the COVID-19 pandemic wore on.

“In a time of global uncertainty and health concerns, modern matchmaking company VIDA Select finds most dating app users intend to keep online dating—but largely prefer meeting a match for the first time via video chat, rather than in person.”

The “marriage infidelity website” Ashley Madison also saw a spike in activity at the start of the pandemic.

By May 2020, stories started to emerge online reporting huge spikes in revenge porn, including an all-time high of calls to the revenge porn Helpline, based in the United Kingdom.

Just how severe is the problem?

I reached out to four well-respected advocacy and legal organizations to find out. I asked each organization how the pandemic has impacted their work, including the effect of lockdowns on staffing arrangements for handling calls from victims.

The following is a summary of their responses.

revenge porn Helpline (UK) – a support service for adult revenge porn and intimate image abuse victims, providing advice, guidance, and assistance in removing intimate content shared nonconsensually online.

A spokesperson for the revenge porn Helpline reported the following:

Calls to the helpline have shot “through the roof” during the pandemic. They experience a 98% increase in April, with new cases growing every month. 2020 was the Helpline’s busiest year on record after only a few months.

In 2019, the revenge porn Helpline statistics worked on a total annual number of 1,685 cases. In March 2020 alone, it had a total of 520 cases. In August, the hotline dealt with 1,914 reports of revenge porn. The revenge porn Helpline expected its monthly caseload to increase to 2,700 cases per month before the end of 2020.

Thus, by the end of 2020, the Helpline had nearly double the number of cases in a single month than all of 2019. Most victims were female, many of whom were using dating apps and websites for the first time.

The Helpline also feared that the bloated level of revenge porn and NCIA cases might be the “new normal,” even after the pandemic has passed:

“This seems to be more of a long-term behavior we are witnessing now, which was triggered by lockdown. This may be the tip of a very big iceberg.”

Separately, in September 2020, the revenge porn Helpline reported that sextortion cases now represented 18% of its total caseload (up from 13% pre-Covid).

Finally, COVID-19 has affected the Helpline’s staffing arrangements. According to the website:

“Due to concerns around the Coronavirus outbreak, the Helpline will be operating an email only service for the time being, therefore voicemail messages may not be responded to immediately. Please contact us by email.”

Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (USA) – NGO established to “combat online abuses that threaten civil rights and civil liberties,” CCRI also operates a Crisis Helpline for victims of revenge porn and other forms of online abuse.

A spokesperson for CCRI reported anecdotal evidence of an increase in revenge porn, intimate image abuse, and other forms of online abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They also have observed a significant increase in calls to the CCRI Crisis Helpline, causing delayed wait times for victims looking for support and legal assistance.

Minc Law (USA) – Online reputation management law firm offering numerous services and support to victims of revenge porn and other forms of online abuse.

Minc law firm has seen an “uptick” in revenge porn cases during the pandemic, and a ‘significant surge’ in sextortion cases, mainly targeting young men.

They’ve also recorded a significant rise in intimate webcam chat room videos that have been hacked and pirated to overseas locations.

Finally, they report that COVID-19 has negatively impacted the staffing arrangements of several online content removal and Reputation Management companies, some of which have been forced to close.

4. The Psychological and Emotional Impacts of Revenge Porn

The psychology of revenge porn is as complex as any crime that involves a direct interaction between victims and perpetrators – and of course, their own unique, opposing behavioral responses or motivations.

In the sections that follow, I’ll highlight some important psychological aspects of revenge porn and intimate image abuse that will hopefully enhance awareness about the issue and better align research, advocacy, education, and law enforcement.

Underreporting of Incidents

One of the critical factors in research on revenge porn is an accurate count of all victimization incidents.

Of course, many victims are too embarrassed or ashamed to report an incident to law enforcement. This is exacerbated by the fact that the offending material is often shared with law-enforcement investigators and, potentially, a courtroom full of people.

As a result, the embarrassment of victims has two significant consequences:

  1. Underreporting of incidents, creating inaccurate statistics.
  2. Insufficient data and research available to academics and advocate groups.

No one knows the full extent of un-reported incidents—but we know it’s making research on revenge porn incredibly difficult.

For instance, Studies 1 and 2 may provide good enough samples for extrapolating the incidence of revenge porn and intimate image abuse mong women and men, age groups, and sexual orientation. But even those studies admit that their sampling methodologies have shortcomings that make those their results speculative.

So why do the gender, age, and sexual orientation of victims—and perpetrators—matter?

Accurate demographic research is critical for effectively targeting support and educational efforts directed at both victims and potential perpetrators.

In turn, accurate identification of victims and perpetrators is crucial to enabling law enforcement to tackle revenge porn and better understand the issue.

While laws are in place against the practice, many advocacy and support groups believe law enforcement agencies are ill-equipped to tackle revenge porn and intimate image abuse. In fact, they may be one of the biggest obstacles.

A more dynamic response by the criminal justice system to investigate and prosecute revenge porn is crucial. We need to reach the point where the response is equatable to incidents of sexual abuse and rape.

5. Supporting and Engaging Law Enforcement

In January 2020, the Priority Criminal Justice Needs Initiative released the results and findings of a panel discussion on Criminal Justice Strategies for Combating Nonconsensual Pornography, Sextortion, Doxing, and Swatting.

It included 6 authors and 12 participants—all distinguished in criminal justice and representing esteemed online rights advocacy groups, law centers, and government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Justice, L.A. Superior Court, and Georgetown Law.

The aim was to look at the psychological impact of revenge porn and intimate image abuse (in addition to cyberbullying, doxing, and swatting) and create a more human portrait of both perpetrators and victims.
Here’s just a bullet list of what they report (it includes revenge porn or intimate image abuse as part of “Technology-Facilitated Abuse, or TFA”):

  • “TFA can have severe and long-lasting impacts on victims that extend far beyond the digital realm—including symptoms of serious psychological distress, including feelings of isolation, guilt, anger, and worthlessness.”
  • “Victims of sextortion and nonconsensual pornography suffer from depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and engage in self-harm at alarmingly high rates.”
  • “A 2015 Federal Bureau of Investigation analysis of 43 sextortion cases found that in 28 percent of those cases the victim either attempted or died by suicide.”
  • “TFA can negatively affect victims’ social relationships and disrupt their educational and professional pursuits.”
  • “In one survey of sextortion victims, almost half reported having lost a relationship with a friend, family member, or partner.”

Work in this area is still in its early stages.

The more that research, education, and advocacy groups can demonstrate the emotional, social, professional, and physiological (somatic) effects of revenge porn, the more law enforcement will treat it as a criminal activity.

The “Streisand Effect” And Unintended Consequences

The Streisand Effect refers to the unexpected outcome of a court case taken by the famous singer and actress Barbra Streisand.

In 2003, Streisand sued a photographer for publishing an image of her California mansion on the internet as part of a study documenting the California coastline’s erosion. Only four people had viewed the picture of Streisand’s home before it was brought to her attention.

However, Streisand’s case backfired spectacularly. For one, she lost. Also, a month after the singer’s lawyers filed suit, nearly 500,000 people had viewed the image. In the years since, millions have seen photos of her mansion online.

“And thus, “The Streisand Effect” was born. By taking legal action to protect her privacy, Streisand inadvertently brought unparalleled attention to the very image she was trying to suppress. Had she never filed the lawsuit, the image may still only have four views.

The Streisand Effect is used as a cautionary tale for anyone who wishes to pursue legal actions related to breaches of privacy or embarrassing media.

6. Law-Enforcement Efforts Against Revenge Porn and Intimate Image Abuse

Victim embarrassment is one of the biggest issues preventing accurate reporting on revenge porn and prosecuting more cases.

Many courts and governments require a victim to publicly take a stand and face questions – often in the presence of their perpetrator and journalists.

Some jurisdictions have taken steps to address the issue. For example, California has a Jane/John Doe law that says:

“. . . . The court, at the request of the alleged victim, may order the identity of the alleged victim in all records and during all proceedings to be either Jane Doe or John Doe, if the court finds that such an order is reasonably necessary to protect the privacy of the person and will not unduly prejudice the prosecution or the defense.”

However, other factors may be holding law enforcement and courts from pursuing and prosecuting revenge porn cases.

According to experts, these include:

  • Criminal justice practitioners might not prioritize cases out of ignorance of the circumstances or the full scope of emotional and psychological harm it inflicts on victims.
  • Criminal justice officials might be unsure of the precise language or laws addressing intimate image abuse and ‘whether there are available resources’ to pursue a case – legal and otherwise.
  • Criminal and civil cases are often “extremely challenging to investigate and adjudicate because of the anonymity provided by most digital platforms, the difficulty of gathering digital evidence, and a legal landscape that has not kept pace with recent technological advancements.”
  • Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit, “have adopted their own policies for identifying and responding to harmful digital behaviors,” perhaps preempting criminal justice system practices and procedures.

These are just a few issues making it difficult for law enforcement to stem the tide of revenge porn and intimate image abuse.

To promote stronger legal frameworks to tackle revenge porn, experts have outlined three areas that need greater focus:

  1. Promoting greater awareness of all realms of intimate image abuse
  2. Improving criminal justice practices and policies for addressing intimate image abuse
  3. Mitigating harm to IIA victims and empowering their response to victimization.

Within this framework, the following actions would have the greatest impact in improving legal processes around revenge porn and encouraging victims to come forward:

  • Updated statutes that directly address IIA and its associated harms and signal the seriousness of the offense, along with clear, strict sentencing guidelines.
  • Staff members trained to identify, gather, and process digital evidence – and sufficient resources for them to do so.
  • An in-depth knowledge base focused on the technological aspect of revenge porn and the vulnerability of victims.
  • Reducing the legal barriers that prevent many victims from coming forward due to embarrassment.
  • Criminal and civil guides to help victims make decisions about which course of action is right for them.
  • A well-defined taxonomy to identify specific types of perpetrators (including partners, hackers, and sextortionists), their motives and psychology, and the distinct differences among them.
  • Funding for more structured, targeted research to help criminal justice practitioners humanize groups affected by revenge porn.

Many advocacy organizations and individual victims believe that the current law enforcement system prevents a full-scale attack on revenge porn and intimate image abuse.

While there are laws in place, the various stakeholders involved are often misaligned, causing friction and lack of progress.

While having better and more strict laws in place would make a huge difference, investigative and prosecutorial procedures, awareness, staffing, and training must be fully deployed to enable the criminal justice system to do its job.

I hope my article and the sources I’ve relied on put revenge porn research, advocacy, education, and law enforcement in “alignment.”

Laws Against Revenge Porn

The table below is a brief outline of the respective laws relating to revenge porn and intimate image abuse in four English-speaking countries.

U.S.A
  • 2020 revenge porn laws by state clickable dropdown box of statutes and offenses by state
  • The states in which revenge porn laws exist as of 2019, clickable by state
  • Another list of states with revenge porn laws, clickable by specific state statutes or torts
  • A table of sexting laws by state, with a column devoted to whether a specific state does or does not have a revenge porn law
United Kingdom
  • The Criminal Justice and Courts Act (passed in 2015), Section 33, (ss) 1 and 9 —
  • The Communications Act of 2003, Section 271 (ss) (1)
  • Also, see 2017 Sentencing Council guidelines for determining offense categories
  • Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Act 2016, Scotland
  • Justice Act 2016, Northern Ireland
Australia
  • Federal law — Enhancing Online Safety (nonconsensual Sharing of Intimate Images), Bill 2018, especially Part 5A
Canada
  • Federal law — Criminal Code, Part V, Sexual Offenses, Section 162.1 (1) and (2)

7. What to Do if a Nude Image is Shared against Your Consent

Whether you’re a victim of revenge porn or your nude image has been hacked and shared online, all respected advocacy and legal groups offer similar advice about your very first step:

Don’t panic—take a deep breath. Don’t blame yourself—it’s not your fault. And remember—you are not alone.

After you’ve calmed yourself, take the following steps:

  • Gather all the evidence you can.
  • Take steps to remove the image from the internet.
  • Decide whether to pursue criminal or civil proceedings against the perpetrator.

1. Documenting the Incident

The most crucial action is to document the revenge porn or intimate image abuse before the perpetrator has a chance to delete it. Documentation will be essential if you decide to “pursue legal relief.”

Preserve a copy of the content.

You can take a screenshot and save it to your device, a flash drive, cloud account, or print the image.

Preserve evidence of any communication or conversations with the perpetrator also.

Report the post.

Social media sites like Facebook and YouTube have strict policies for adult content on their sites. Because adult content violates their Terms of Use, you can flag or report the content to get it removed. Facebook and YouTube remove adult content quickly without much (or any) interaction from the person who flags the content.

Back-track images to find the source.

It is not always immediately evident who posted nonconsensual pornography. You may have to do a little bit of research to identify an anonymous poster. Of course, an online defamation professional can help with this process, but there are some things you can do on your own. [Also see below for online removal resources.]

One of the simplest ways to find out the source of an image is by using Google Reverse Image Search. On your computer (or phone), simply right-click on the intimate or explicit image and select “copy image.” Then, go to Google Images and click “search by image.”

Paste the image you just copied into the search bar. The search results will point you toward all sites that have the image.

If you find the image only once, you can right-click the image and select “copy image address” to find the exact URL where the image is hosted.

Find out who hosts the website or server where the image was found.

Using the website www.whoishostingthis.com or domaintools.com, you can look up the hosting provider for the website where the image was found. Enter the domain name where you found the intimate or private sexual image, and each site will provide you with information about the host.

2. Removing the Image

You have three options to remove your nonconsensual nude image:

  • Do it yourself, by visiting Online Removal Guides (ORGs) on the internet.
  • Contracting an Online Reputation Management (ORM) company.
  • Hire a content removal professional (CRP), including legal firms and online reputation management companies.

You can contact social platforms, search engines, or browsers directly to begin the process of removal, but I would recommend the ORG or CRP route.

ORMs have their own reputation for vague, perhaps unfixed service rates, plus they’re more targeted at repairing reputations, many times at the corporate level.

The U.S.-based Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) provides clear, comprehensive steps for removing nonconsensual images from the following—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft (Bing), and Snapchat.

There are many other ORGs available online – a simple search of “Online Removal Guides” will bring up plenty. However, like many ORMs, they’re not all dedicated to just revenge porn and NCIA digital-image removal.

If you’ve preserved all the relevant documentation but you’re not quite ready to tackle the removal process alone, visit one of the international helplines below for assistance.

The United States and Canada The following pages on the CCRI website:

  • Crisis Helpline
  • FAQ page for U.S. victims roster of volunteer pro bono or inexpensive attorneys who will take on revenge porn or NCIA cases in pe each U.S. state.
United Kingdom
  • revenge porn Helpline
  • The Law Society for help in finding a solicitor
  • Ministry of Justice for seeking legal advice
For other countries (Australia, Brazil, Israel and Palestine, Pakistan, South Korea, and Taiwan)
  • CCRI international resources page, which provides a dropdown menu of resources for each country

3. Choose Whether to Pursue Criminal or Civil Charges

Criminal cases are more difficult to pursue—unless the shared digital image is of a minor.

There’s also the prospect of the Streisand effect, even if you settle on pursuing a civil case.

Law enforcement and local district attorneys prosecute adult criminal cases. That means you don’t necessarily need a lawyer—but hiring one may make the process more manageable and immediate. Simultaneously, as the previous section suggested, the process for pursuing criminal cases in revenge porn and intimate image abuse is incredibly slow.

Civil cases, however, do require retaining a lawyer.

You can pursue civil cases in any state. Even if revenge porn laws don’t allow civil charges, “other civil claims can be made against posters of nonconsensual pornography,” including intentional infliction of emotional distress and privacy torts (false light, intrusion invasion of privacy, and misappropriation).

According to Minc Law, a law firm specializing in online reputation management, civil suits are a viable way to remove unwanted images and receive compensation (emotional or monetary) for the victimization.

However, Minc Law firm settles about 90% of cases using DMCA takedown notices—that is, by establishing copyright over the webcam photo (after all, whose webcam took the photo?). Legal firms will also seek an injunction against the appearance of a nonconsensual image on a platform by invoking cease-and-desist or invasion-of-privacy orders.

The spokesperson said the removal process takes about five days.

Still, don’t hold back from getting reparation for your victimization suffering. The Minc Law spokesperson said it’s more likely that a civil case will result in a pre-trial settlement.

When law enforcement and courts become full partners in the fight against revenge porn – and the process doesn’t deter victims from reporting incidents – the prospect of paying civil suit compensation may be an even greater deterrent to perpetrators.

Right now, it’s a gamble and you’ll need to decide what action(s) make sense for you.

8. Sextortion: What to Do if You’re a Victim, and How to Avoid It in the First Place

Online removal may or may not apply here—but certainly, the various support helplines can assist you.

Here are the key steps you should take if you’re a sextortion victim:

1. Don’t blame yourself.

Once again, you’re the victim of a crime. Don’t allow any embarrassment to stop you from pursuing justice or cave into the demands of the extortionist.

2. Cease communication and document the offense.

Don’t communicate with your perpetrator any further.

Document your experience by taking a screenshot of the perpetrator.

If you can record any communication from the perpetrator, do that. But don’t respond to the threat.

Suspend your social media accounts (but don’t delete them) and follow the relevant processes to report the matter to Skype, YouTube, etc. Get any video blocked and taken down, and set up an alert in case it resurfaces.

Deactivating your account temporarily rather than shutting it down means your data is preserved and will help police collect evidence. You can also reactivate the account at any time, so your online memories are not lost forever. Also, keep an eye on all the accounts linked to your social media in case the criminals try to contact you via one of those.

<h4<3. Preserve all evidence.

Make a note of all details provided by the offenders, for example:

  • The Skype name (particularly the Skype ID)
  • The Facebook URL
  • The Western Union or MoneyGram Money Transfer Control Number (MTCN)
  • Any photos/videos that were sent, etc.

Be aware that the scammer’s Skype name is different from their Skype ID, and it’s the ID details that police will need. To get that, right-click on their profile, select ‘View Profile’ and then look for the name shown in blue rather than the one above it in black. It’ll be next to the word ’Skype’ and will have no spaces in it.

DO NOT DELETE ANY CORRESPONDENCE.

4. Don’t pay anything.

Regardless of the threat to share any material among family, friends, or co-workers, DO NOT PAY ANYTHING OR GIVE INTO ANY DEMANDS, INCLUDING DEMANDS FOR OTHER INTIMATE PHOTOS.

Many victims who have paid have continued to get more demands for higher amounts of money. In some cases, even when the demands have been met, the offenders will still post the explicit videos.

If you have already paid, check if the money has been collected. If possible, make a note of where it was collected from. If it hasn’t, cancel the payment—and the sooner you do that, the better.

5. Seek help and support.

Contact your local police or authority, or call a helpline or legal firm for advice.

How to Protect Yourself Against Revenge Porn and Sextortion

The best defense against them is awareness and prevention.

Again, the world of revenge porn and intimate image abuse is in its comparative infancy. The world of online dating the new age of physical relationships, including actual intimacy.

To protect yourself from hacker-based intimate image abuse and sextortion scams, the FBI provides some guidance for handling some of your routine computer tasks:

  • Don’t open emails or attachments from unknown sources or individuals.
  • Don’t communicate with unsolicited email—even if you believe it’s legitimate. If you want to reply to an email, visit the website in the email address directly and look for a contact form.
  • Don’t provide personal information—including your whereabouts, even vacation planning—through email.
  • Be aware that many emails requesting your personal information appear to be legitimate.
  • Don’t store sensitive or embarrassing photos in the cloud or on your mobile devices. If you need to retain them, move them to a USB flash drive.
  • Always use strong passwords (long strings of letters, numbers, or symbols), and always create a different password for each online or social-media account you use. Think of purchasing a password management tool (LogMe Once, Zoho Vault (for legal teams), Dashlane, Keeper, LastPass, RoboForm, Boss, Sticky Password, and Bitwarden (a free, open-source password manager) to help you remember passwords.
    Turn off your computer, webcam, and microphone when you’re not using them.
  • Keep your webcam covered when not in use—cardstock cut to width and length is fine—to prevent reverse webcam spying.

Two Simple Steps You to Guard Your Online Privacy and Anonymity

Here are two simple ways to thwart hackers trying to attack you in various different ways.

Encrypt Your Email

A staggering 91% of cybercrime starts with email. This usually starts with unsolicited emails posing as official correspondence from legitimate institutions, luring recipients into providing sensitive personal or financial information.

Several subscriber-based encrypted email services are available (and a couple of open-source ones for free). These are your best-bets for security, and they’ll give explicit instructions for maintaining your closest email contacts. The services include:

  • ProtonMail
  • Tutanota (open-source)
  • Hushmail
  • CounterMail
  • Runbox
  • Kolab Now (open source)
  • Mailfence
  • StartMail
  • Flow (from Lavabit)

Use a VPN to Stay Secure, Hidden, and Anonymous online

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts your internet data transmission and protects your anonymity, privacy, website browsing, and the integrity of your laptop or device.

VPNs connect you to remote servers throughout the world—each with a different IP address. When you subscribe to the VPN service, you can choose any of these IP addresses to legally mask the IP address assigned to you by your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

The new remote IP address cannot be associated with your identity or your location. It’s even invisible to your ISP—which knows you’re logged on to the internet but only to an unidentifiable VPN server.

The top VPNs offer malware and spyware blockers to prevent malicious viruses from wreaking havoc on your operating system and hacker-created software from exposing you to dox attacks or identity theft.

Check out our complete guide to VPNs for more in depth information about different VPNs providers.

The Bottom Line

The revenge porn phenomenon is no less acute, severe, or psychologically devastating and emotionally ruinous than rape, pedophilia, and sex-slave trafficking.

With that in mind, here some final thoughts on the subject.

  • Victims: it’s not your fault, and you’re not alone. You have access to outside and personal resources—you should try using them.
  • Advocacy and Education Groups: you’ve not only “helped” victims, but you’ve also set the foundation for what will eventually become the Tao of ridding online revenge porn and IIA from the internet.
  • Research Community: start identifying specific groups with high rates of victims or perpetrators, so you can support advocational, educational, and law-enforcement efforts in “individualizing”—putting a human face—on the revenge porn and IIA phenomenon.
  • Criminal Justice: You’ve finally addressed the issue of sexual abuse and rape. revenge porn and IIA are the digital equivalents. When you’ve arrived at that recognition and pursuit, then let’s all start turning to pedophilia and sex-slave trafficking.

Original source: https://www.vpnmentor.com/blog/revenge-porn-guide/