Professor Emma Bond is Director of Research at the University of Suffolk. She is Professor of Socio-Technical Research and also Director of the Suffolk Institute of Social and Economic Research (SISER). Katie Tyrrell joined the University of Suffolk in 2017 after graduating with an MSc in Mental Health Research with distinction from the University of Nottingham. Katie is a member of SISER.
The rapid development and interconnectivity of smart phones, tablets and social media has enabled the easy photographing and filming of both the self – the selfie – and others in private spaces, which can be quickly made public at a click or the touch of a screen. Whilst sexting or the sharing of nude selfies and dic pics by young people has been the topic of research and has attracted considerable media and educational attention, to date there is little research on revenge pornography. However, this rapidly escalating phenomenon has extremely distressing and often devastating personal consequences for victims. We know that the psychological consequences of revenge pornography can have a very damaging impact on a victim’s emotional and mental wellbeing. Posting images and videos without someone’s consent with information which identifies them can also increase the potential for further abuse and harassment.
Whilst the personal consequences are well understood, revenge pornography can affect your career too as people have had to leave their job because of embarrassment after photos have been shared or because they are frightened by the threat that images will be published.
It is important to remember that revenge pornography is, more often than not, part of an abusive relationship. Sometimes abusive relationships can be hard to recognise and very hard to cope with. The number of people affected by revenge pornography is very hard to estimate because people are too embarrassed to report it. Because of the humiliation and fear that victims experience, and like other abusive relationships where people are threatened or bullied, the majority of cases remain unreported. Furthermore, due to the increasing numbers of websites dedicated to revenge pornography images and videos and variety of social media platforms and personal mobile technologies, the actual number of these types of images and abusive behaviours is impossible to even attempt to estimate.
The problem is more complicated because although the image(s) and video(s) can be removed they can remain searchable and, therefore, still exist on search engines like Google especially if the image has been tagged or associated with a person’s name.
Revenge pornography is increasing but it’s important to remember that, since its introduction to the Communications Act in 2015, it is considered to be a criminal offence.
Those found guilty of sharing intimate images and videos without the person’s consent can potentially face a prison sentence of up to two years. It is also important to note that whilst the person responsible for committing revenge pornography is typically a former partner, this is not always the case. The Revenge Porn Helpline suggests that actually, some cases arise from hacking either devices or cloud storage, or via methods using third party apps to harvest or leak images, for example ‘the snappening’ in which personal Snapchat accounts were hacked and thousands of images released.
The Revenge Porn Helpline also receives increasing calls related to Sextortion, when a person has been blackmailed often after performing sexual acts via webcam. The person can then be a victim of coercion and control in the form of financial blackmail or threats that the images or video content will be shared with friends or family.
These acts are all a form of abuse, a method of coercion and control via online mediums, which have devastating effects across both the online and offline worlds. To raise awareness of these and the use of technology to facilitate abuse and control, the University of Suffolk is holding a Virtual Violence conference on the 10th May. The conference speakers include Laura Higgins from the Revenge Porn Helpline and many more.
This free conference is open to multi-agency practitioners, university staff and academics but most importantly students, with an aim to advance understanding around the digitalisation of abusive relationships and to discuss how people can keep themselves safe.
If you are unsure as to what constitutes an act of revenge porn or want to know more about how to report content online, the Revenge Porn Helpline has some great resources and FAQs on their website.
If you have had intimate images posted online without your consent, get in contact with the Revenge Porn Helpline:
Telephone: 0345 600 0459.
If you are under the age of 18 and have had a naked image shared of you online without your consent, the ‘so you got naked online’ resource produced by South West Grid for Learning provides in-depth information as to what to do. Images can also be reported anonymously to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).