Losing love: the dangerous rise of revenge porn

Róisín Phelan

Credit: Tomekah George

Trust is an aspect of relationships that is essential, from the very beginning. It is an agreement between two people which allows them to engage in a safe, comfortable relationship.

It can take time to build, or it can be an immediate. When a relationship ends, parties can be left feeling hurt, vulnerable and sometimes, angry.

While some sides may want to seek revenge, the digital age has made this easier than ever before. In the immediacy of a single post on social media, an individual’s entire reputation can be destroyed in a single photograph.

The term beginning to be frequently used for scenarios where nude photographs are posted without prior consent after a relationship ends is ‘revenge porn’. Recently, calls have been made for criminal consequences for those who carry out revenge porn.

Anna, who’s real name has been changed to protect her privacy, is a 19-year-old girl who’s reputation was on the line last year after her ex boyfriend threatened to post her nude photos online when she tried to end their relationship.

She explained that she and her ex-boyfriend had an unhealthy relationship, in which he was “jealous frequently and very emotionally manipulating.”

Throughout their year-long relationship, she said, “he always joked about it [posting her nude photos] but I obviously never took it seriously, I completely trusted him when I sent them.”

“Every time I tried to leave the relationship there was always a threat,” she said, “and the most daunting one was to do with the photos. He had a lot on me, and I guess he still does.”

She said the threats made her feel “extremely violated and unsafe.”

“It wasn’t until months later where I felt safe enough to finally block his phone number without fearing he would post something.”

Thankfully, her former partner never did post her images, however, she said his threats still cross her mind daily.

“The scary thing is he probably still has all that stuff on me, but I can only hope he is smart enough not to go there with it… I can only hope it doesn’t catch up with me in the future.”

According to a survey of 1,606 people between the ages of 18 and 30 carried out by Cyber Civil Rights Initiative in the US, 23 per cent of respondents had been victims of revenge porn at some point in their lives.

93 per cent of these people reported experiencing significant emotional distress and 51 per cent said that they had considered taking their life.

Caroline West is a PhD candidate and holds an MA in Sexuality Studies at DCU. She agreed that nude photos have a degree of power, but emphasised that “it is not necessarily nude photos that have the power to ruin lives and relationships. Rather it is the people who violate consent and share these images that are the ones at fault.”

West described revenge porn as “a form of sexual violation… blaming the person for taking the photos is simply victim blaming,” and said that focus needs to be on “the actions of the consent violator.”

“The issue isn’t why people take nudes, but why people think sharing them without consent is acceptable,” she said.

West added, “we urgently need legislation in this area. Victims need to remember they are not the ones at fault and to contact the Gardaí if they are being threatened with leaks or if it has happened.”

Currently in Ireland, there is no specific legislation covering the offence of revenge porn. A charge of harassment covered under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person’s Act is sometimes used to prosecute offenders.

However, Anna told The College View that, “anything porn related is only really protected if the person is underage, the courts don’t care much for someone over the age of 18.”

The Labour Party are attempting to change this by introducing the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill 2017, which is currently before the Dáil for examination. Section 4 of this Bill would make distributing an “intimate image without consent” an offence.

If passed, it would criminalise taking or threatening to “distribute or publish” an intimate image of another without their consent and causing “alarm, distress or harm” to the other person.

This offence would be punishable by a “Class A fine” or various terms of imprisonment depending on the intentions of the offender, upwards form six months.

Mark, a 20-year-old student spoke to The College View about his experience with a threat of revenge porn. Due to the sensitive nature of his experience, his name has been changed.

He said, “from what I understand there’s no real set repercussions because it doesn’t go to court that often, it’s more kind of along the lines that you’ve to sort it out yourself, and for me that isn’t good enough.”

He met someone on the dating app Grindr and they began talking regularly and sharing nude photos.

As things progressed, “it kind of emerged that he was sending them to his friends,” he said.

Mark confronted the man who he thought he could trust and the response was terrifying.

“He said ‘send me a f*cking video or every single one of those gets posted online’,” remembered Mark.

“I was like floored…I hadn’t even met the chap yet, I just put my full trust in him, and I really shouldn’t have done that, but I felt so helpless and there was no one that I could really contact,” said Mark.

He told The College View that he thought the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill would help victims of revenge porn.

However, he said that it would be “extremely hard to prove that I didn’t want them shared, because I’m sending them myself.”

He described the act of threatening to or the posting of other people’s nude photos without their consent as “malicious”.

“I don’t think there is ever a non-malicious reason to do this, it’s never going to not be malicious,” he said.

Róisín Phelan

Image Credit: Tomekah George