Why blame victims of revenge porn?

A couple of weeks ago I saw the Channel 4 documentary Revenge Porn. It scared a lot of people to death, and started a discussion around the issue in the UK. For those that don’t know, revenge porn refers to the act of sharing intimate pictures of another person without their consent. Jilted exes, normally male, often upload material to websites to be viewed by tens of thousands, often alongside the victim’s personal information—names, addresses and social media accounts are common. Revenge porn has been illegal in the UK since early 2015, and carries a penalty of up to 2 years in prison.

One of the scariest parts of the documentary though was not just the focus on the victims and perpetrators, but on the vox popping segments with the general public. I sat horrified as ordinary, intelligent people—many of them women themselves—reasoned that the victims of revenge porn were to blame, or at least part to blame, for what happened to them. That if they took intimate pictures of themselves and shared them with someone else, they should be prepared for the possible consequences. Essentially, they believed that the victims were reaping what they had sown. It was all pretty soul destroying stuff.

Surely most of us have been guilty of sending a sexy selfie every now and then? It’s a pretty mundane occurrence in today’s world. Anybody who has is a potential victim of revenge porn. What we as a society think about revenge porn, and where we appropriate blame, is very important if we’re to make the committing of the crime as taboo as it needs to be. I have never, thank god, been a victim of it. But by god have I made myself vulnerable.

Revenge Porn presenter Anna Richardson took her own sexy snaps and uploaded them to revenge sites

Revenge Porn presenter Anna Richardson took her own sexy snaps and uploaded them to revenge sites

I was 18 or 19 and in a long distance relationship. This was my first serious boyfriend, and I was madly in love. We were young, and it was exciting, and I did things that I may put a little more thought into now, only a few years on. I will leave the gory details to your imagination, but there came an occasion in which a Skype session got pretty carried away. Afterwards, I found out that my boyfriend had been recording me the whole time. Maybe my technological naivety failed me, but I never even stopped to consider that that was in his power.

I’d surprised myself with my boldness during that Skype session, and I was punished for it. To be clear, we’re talking literal amateur porn fim, here—explicit content, narration, my face at all times visible—but I had no knowledge that I was making one. I never gave my consent and my boyfriend hadn’t bothered to ask for it. What’s more, I remember asking if he could delete it, but he said he didn’t want to and I didn’t press the issue too much. I didn’t want to seem like a killjoy.

This was a person I trusted, so I tried to put it out of my mind. We remained together for a considerable amount of time afterwards, so there was never really any need to worry. Occasionally he would talk about watching the footage when we were apart, and although I felt uncomfortable, I suppose I also secretly felt a bit pleased to think he would rather watch me than some anonymous stranger on the internet. That’s the silliness of egos for you. We remained friendly after our break up, and I went through the usual motions and asked him to delete any pictures he had of me and, of course, the video. At that point he claimed he didn’t have it anymore. What could I do but accept it and try to forget it?

Laws are being passed around the world to try and discourage the posting of revenge porn

Laws are being passed around the world to try and discourage the posting of revenge porn

To this day I don’t really know whether what happened would constitute an offence. Morally, it seemed clear that my ex’s actions were wrong, and I definitely felt violated—but would it be seen like that in legal terms? The law states that it is illegal to “record someone doing a private act, with the intention that the recorded image will be viewed by the offender or another person”, and whilst non-consensual filming is a definite no-no, the use of Skype must muddy the waters. If you were to watch that footage, no doubt it would look very consensual, given I was willingly interacting with the camera.

Its not that I really believe he would ever share it with anyone. I don’t think he is that kind of person, and I can’t imagine there will be any occasion in the future in which I would do wrong to him, and provide the motivation. But it sure as hell scares me to know that something like that, that I would never in a million years allow to exist if I had any say in it, is potentially out there somewhere. I can’t even imagine what I would do if it did make its way onto the internet. I would be distraught, to say the least.

The people interviewed on Revenge Porn may well say that, because I was willingly engaging in this activity over the internet, I unwittingly consented. However, we don’t use the same kind of logic in our discussion of consent in physical relationships. If a person willingly has sex with another person on one occasion, their consent obviously does not automatically extend beyond that occasion.

Technology, without a doubt, has changed the way we conduct relationships forever, and revenge porn is only one part of that. Nowadays, more and more couples are even signing ‘social media pre-nups’ that contain revenge porn clauses. We need to keep talking about these kinds of issues, and force the redefinition of what it means to be abused, if need be.

Should it, for instance, be an offence for an individual to keep explicit material of another if they have requested its destruction, and could we ever really enforce such a law? Should our sovereignty over our bodies extend to images of our bodies, and how do we protect that sovereignty?

These are no doubt frightening times to be living in. The internet brings with it a sea of hazards. Only by talking about the issues do we have a chance to navigate them safely.

The author of this post has been changed to Gumption Gal in order to protect their identity.