Love, Lies & Nudes: How Revenge Porn Destroyed These Women's Lives

We sleep with them, record intimate moments of our families and friends on them and use them to organise most of our lives. Our phones are one of the last things we see before we shut our eyes at night and one of the first things we wake up to. Since the advent of dating apps, messaging apps and social networks, technology has become an intrinsic part of this generation’s love lives. But just as it has made some things easier, like day-to-day communication, it has exacerbated other issues – as we explore in this documentary made in collaboration with Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and youth specialist creative network Livity.
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One of these very modern problems is 'revenge porn'. In 2015, in an attempt to tackle it, the British legislature made revenge porn a criminal offence. Under the new law, the offence is described as the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress. As one of our interviewees, who wishes to remain anonymous, told us: "I have constant paranoia and find it almost impossible to trust men. I worry about cameras everywhere." Due to the crime's reliance on technology, people often perceive it to be a scourge of contemporary society. But research by forward-thinking feminist scholar, Dr. Tanya Horeck from ARU, suggests otherwise. "I couldn’t have predicted the ways that digitalised sexual violence would have become prevalent back in 2004 when I first wrote my book," she tells us. "However, these behaviours have a context and they are part of a long continuum of sharing misogynistic content about women. In other words, the medium might be new but sharing this kind of content is not. It has a long history."
On the other hand, as Horeck points out, the internet can also be a platform for resistance. "Take the #JadaPose hashtag as an example. In this case, we see people using the hashtag in support of the young woman as well." In a way, this is similar to Folami Prehaye's story. "When you google my name, you no longer see the photos," Prehaye tells us, "you see how I turned my ex-partner’s abusive actions against me into something positive and an advocacy platform of the rights of others." In 2014, Prehaye’s partner shared photos of her on the internet after they broke up. "I couldn’t believe he had done this to me," she says. At the time, there was no law and no revenge porn helpline. "The police didn’t know what to do and weren’t sure how to help me. So, I had to take down the photos myself."
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Despite there being legislation against revenge porn in this country, there are several issues with accessing justice this way. From the perspectives of both Horeck and Prehaye, part of that lies in the name. As Prehaye explains: "The word 'revenge' implies that you have done something wrong. There is something to be avenged and this puts the blame back on the victim. This is why I chose the name 'Victims Of Internet Crime (VOIC)' [for her platform] because it appropriately describes what has happened."
Another issue is that many victims can’t afford the financial and social cost associated with the pursuit of legal action. Earlier this year, the United Kingdom saw Chrissy Chambers win her legal battle to secure damages from the man who posted sexually explicit videos of her online. While this was a landmark case and Chambers needs to be celebrated for standing up against such misogynistic bullying, the bitter truth is that, in the context of the UK’s legal aid cuts, this is not an option for most ordinary people. As lawyer Max Campbell told us: "It’s no secret that we have a huge issue with access to justice in this country."
As 'justice' does not exist in a legalistic vacuum, it is imagined and shaped by our social expectations of it. In regards to sexual offences, our social attitudes and prejudices inhibit people coming forward. Anna didn’t even think of going to the police: "I’d previously gone to the police about domestic abuse in a former relationship. They didn’t take me seriously and were quite sexist in the handling of the incident. When this happened, I didn’t think about going as I thought I would be blamed and told I shouldn’t have sent the images." Even on the government paperwork to do with the offence, it says 'be aware b4 u share', placing the responsibility on the sender as opposed to interrogating why men do this to unsuspecting and unconsenting women.
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While the majority of cases are female, it does happen to men too. And, as we discovered, some of the feelings of loneliness and stigma are amplified due to the misconception that it doesn’t happen to their gender. One male we spoke to wanted to remain anonymous for fear of social repercussions due to his being gay and the use of drugs. Despite this abusive behaviour towards him, he believes that if discovered, he could be further ostracised, lose his job and bear the judgment of the wider community.
At the crux of it, revenge porn is no more than an exposure of someone’s sexuality. Given the majority of cases happen to women, it is a damning indication of how ready we are to judge someone for their sexual expression. As implied by Horeck’s research, this cannot be changed by the law alone. Instead, it requires us to ask far more complicated questions about trust, consent and the treatment of female sexuality in modern society.
If you've been affected by any of the content of this article and would like support, you can contact VOIC here or the National Revenge Porn Hotline.
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