Victim of Revenge Porn? Here’s What to Do.

by | Aug 13, 2020 | RELATIONSHIPS, SEXUALITY

This is an image of a man in a mask with a computer and the words revenge porn.

Trigger warning: This article discusses Image Based Sexual Abuse and provides some examples that may evoke discomfort to readers.

What is Revenge Porn?

Revenge porn, clinically known as Image-based sexual abuse (IBSA), is no joke. Defined as the sharing of someone’s explicit or intimate images or videos of sex acts without their consent, IBSA is frequently called revenge porn, because it is created with the intent to harass, and primarily occurs as a form of revenge following a rejection. While revenge is a frequent motive for perpetrators of IBSA, there are several other driving factors that underly this offense.

In February 2020, a cross-national study reported that approximately 1 in 3 people have been the victim of Image Based Sexual Abuse (IBSA), an increase from 2016, when the data suggested 1 in 5 people reported victimization. According to the same study, there was no notable increase in the number of sexy images that were shared consensually, but rather, the increasing numbers reflected an increase in perpetrators sharing sexy or nude videos or images of another person, without their knowledge or consent.

People between the ages of 20-29 were the most likely to experience IBSA at a rate of two times more likely than people over 40, and men were the more frequent perpetrators. Men and women reported similar rates of victimization, but women were reported to demonstrate a higher level of harm from IBSA, as they noted more fear for their physical safety from the perpetrator, slut shaming (using women’s sexuality against them), and victim-blaming as additional factors that compounded the negative effects of IBSA. On top of that, many people do not even know they are being filmed or photographed in intimate moments, as images are often captured when they are sleeping, showering or using the bathroom, engaging in sex via online video or with cameras that have been set up to capture sexual interactions unbeknownst to them.

To be open sexually requires a tremendous amount of trust. True sexual pleasure and intimacy requires an understanding, between all who are participating, and a sense of safety; both of which require consent. When sexy images are exchanged, most of the people sending nudes assume those images stop in the hands of the intended recipient, but often that is not the case. IBSA can occur in the context of flirting, dating, or a relationship, and lead to tremendous emotional distress.

Victims frequently report fear, shame, and symptoms of posttraumatic stress; similar to what victims of contact-based offenses experience. One woman learned her husband had filmed their sexual activity for years, without her knowing, and uploaded the videos regularly to an amateur porn site. She had no idea. Another woman had a few dates with someone, but after it became clear they were not a good fit, she pulled away. He threatened to send the nude pictures she sent him to all of her Instagram followers to ruin her career as an influencer if she ended the relationship. Many others have learned that their images were sent to partners’ friends or acquaintances in an effort to brag about or shame their bodies.
 

 

Why Do People Leak Nudes?

What drives people to share others’ private sexual images? The motives vary and most perpetrators claim they are sharing the photos in a good-natured manner, but they fail to recognize that without consent, sharing someone’s explicit images is both a sexual and emotional violation. Regardless of the exact motivation, the behavior reflects an underlying and eroticized rage, meaning an anger that is expressed via sexual thoughts or behavior.

IBSA has been widely understood as a revenge strategy, to deal with being rejected. Even without rejection, sharing distributing someone’s explicit images can be an act of revenge or retaliation for real or perceived grievances. The grievances can sometimes be related to past partners and have nothing to do with the person being currently victimized. Other than that, they have become a proxy for the perpetrator’s eroticized rage. The goal of perpetrators of IBSA in this case, is to externalize the shame and humiliation they feel, by creating the opportunity for others to experience the same feelings, like a game of emotional hot potato.

A secondary motive for IBSA is for the perpetrator to make up for low self-esteem by bragging to others about their sexual conquests. In this case the collection and distribution of sexual or nude images gives the perpetrator a sense that they are good enough, assuaging concerns that they are inadequate or unworthy (which is their biggest fear). Sharing sexual images proves to their friends and their unconscious mind that they are sexually relevant, capable and powerful, all of which they feel none of without the conquests. Like trading baseball cards, sexy images have become a currency of sorts for perpetrators to trade and collect; commoditizing victims’ appearance and sexuality in service of their own fragile egos.

A desire to control others underscores IBSA that is used to coerce others into an act of submission. Perpetrators of domestic violence will often threaten a partner with the distribution of their sexual images to get their way and extort gains. Some may use IBSA as a means to extort money or compel sexual behavior from an uninterested or unwilling partner.

Lastly, for some perpetrators of IBSA, the motivation is about being aroused to that which is taboo. These people get off on knowing that they are breaking the rules and getting away with it, which increases their satisfaction. Think about it as a form of simultaneous and vicarious exhibitionism and voyeurism. Knowing that others may be shocked when they open the images, is as arousing as knowing that someone’s images are being viewed without consent.

Surprisingly, less than half of the people surveyed in the aforementioned study knew that it was illegal to take or distribute someone’s explicit images without their consent. This represents a dearth of education about both the fundamental aspects of consent and the impacts of technology on human behavior. Many people, especially the perpetrators of IBSA, minimize the impact of such a violation, because they fail to understand the magnitude of betrayal, powerlessness, and shame that accompanies having one’s private images shared without consent. Another possibility is that they do not care and lack sufficient respect and empathy for the boundaries of others; due in part to baked in attitudes of sexism, dehumanization, misogyny, entitlement and the impact of the growing use of technology. Technology offers a buffer against having to observe the devastation someone might feel directly in person, furthering the dehumanization of those who are victimized. Ignorance is bliss, so to speak, and if the gravity of someone’s pain is not directly witnessed, it is more easily minimized or denied.

What To Do If You’re the Victim of Revenge Porn

If you have been threatened or know that your images have been shared without your consent, what to do about it can feel overwhelming. It can be incredibly scary to come forward, as many victims of revenge porn noted fearing additional retaliation, in the form of physical violence, more images shared, professional or public scrutiny and ostracization, and being blamed.

First, it is clear to know that images leaked (like any form of sexual violence) are NEVER the victims’ fault. Never. Though victims are frequently blamed or their experiences minimized by friends, family, end even law enforcement (according to this article in Business Insider), victims of IBSA are not at fault for the violation foisted upon them.

It is common for victims of IBSA to experience a host of traumatic symptoms, including, but not limited to, feeling intense shame, fear, emotional upheaval and dysregulation, anxiety, depression, shock, numbness, suicidality, anger and rage, nausea, changes in sleep or appetite, avoidance and isolation, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, an acute startle reflex and hypervigilance. Be kind to yourself, no matter your reaction, and rest assured that there is tremendous diversity in how people handle sexual abuse of any kind. There no one correct way to react.

Now is a good time to find trusted support. The key word here is trusted. Friends and family may do their best but may also inadvertently participate in shaming or escalating your fears. Many victims seek help from law enforcement and file an official report, while others believe that to be a path without merit. Connecting with a therapist trained to treat sexual trauma is a sound place to start so you can begin to heal and make decisions about how to proceed. There are hotlines dedicated to helping victims find local support, such as the End Revenge Porn Crisis Hotline hosted by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. Finding an attorney who is trained to handle cases of IBSA is key, if you decide to press charges. According to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, here is a breakdown of the laws surrounding revenge porn for each state.

In the following 12 states, revenge porn is considered a felony:

Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas

Sixteen states consider revenge porn either a misdemeanor or felony:

Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

In these 18 states and one district, revenge porn is considered a misdemeanor:

Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington DC

Interestingly, four states remain without any noted legislation around revenge porn: Massachusetts, South Carolina, Mississippi and Wyoming.

Preventing IBSA & Creating Social Change

While it is never the victims’ fault when their images are shared without consent, there are a few precautions you can take to try and limit the risk of this happening to you.

  1. Be extremely judicious about with whom you share pictures or videos, with whom you video sext and are intimate. Know their full name and have a means of tracking them beyond their social media profile, in the event you get blocked or their profile disappears.
  2. Talk to partners about your boundaries and assess whether or not they respect your beliefs and limits, before you get naked. Discuss where created images will live, who will be their keeper, and how they will be handled in the event you stop talking to each other.
  3. It can be a lot of fun to get frisky via sexts or video chats with a new love or sexy interest but staying aware of the risks can keep you alert to the notification that your video chat is being recorded. Look for other devices in view of the camera, or notifications on the app that you are being recorded.
  4. You might even consider using an editing app to add a watermark that includes the person’s name with whom you are sharing the image or a disclaimer that says “This image is not to be shared” with the date and some other codifying mark, so if your image gets released later, you can identify who shared your image, and this lets the person know you are not messing around.
  5. Another thing to consider is how you react if others share someone’s nudes with you. Instead of laughing, or encouraging this behavior, simply stating that it’s not acceptable and you do not wish to see it can help extinguish the behavior moving forward.
  6. By all means do not share someone’s nudes! Just don’t. Not even for fun. Not even just this once. Go find another hobby, one that might allow you to feel good about yourself in a sustainable way, so the idea of sending other people’s intimate pictures is no longer considered a way to boost yourself up.

 

Everyone has the right to a full, pleasurable and consenting sexual experience. At the end of the day, the only way to prevent your nude images from being released without your consent is to avoid taking them or sending them, but that can inhibit the sexual fun shared with a partner you trust. Be cautious and do your best to evaluate if you can trust someone before you share. Above all else, remember sexual abuse or assault is never the victim’s fault. Ever. There is help if you find yourself the victim of IBSA and you are not alone on your path of healing. You have nothing to be ashamed of and you did nothing wrong.

Modern Intimacy is founded by renowned therapist Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This blog is designed to be an ultimate resource for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. We have many expert contributors from all around the world! Enjoy!

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Author Bio

Dr. Kate Balestrieri is a Licensed Psychologist, Certified Sex Therapist, Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, and PACT II trained Couples Therapist. She is the Founder of Modern Intimacy. Follow her on IG @drkatebalestrieri and @themodernintimacy.

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