As mentioned previously, sexually explicit images (photos, videos) can have been made intentionally for seduction purposes, can have been made under pressure and threat, or can have been stolen in the privacy. In any case, to broadcast them without the subject’s consent is to commit an act of revenge porn.
A Story About Ex… But Not Only
Revenge porn is first committed for revenge purposes by an ex who does not accept the breakup. If boys take revenge on girls and girls take revenge on boys, boys also take revenge on boys and girls also take revenge on girls. Whether straight or gay, a vengeful boy or girl seeks above all to harm their ex’s image and reputation. But teen girls sometimes see their images broadcast by their current boyfriend who wants to show to his mates that he has a sex life, that he is a real man. Images can also be broadcast by a victim’s friend who takes revenge after an argument or a dispute, or by jealousy, envy; by a peeping Tom stealing images at a drunken party and entertaining himself by sharing them online; by a blackmailer who commits sextortion (cf. the tragic story of Amanda Todd); by a hacker who just damages for free.
A Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
When people commit revenge porn, they seek above all to harm their target’s image and reputation, to reveal secrets about their privacy. Revenge porn can be linked to body shaming (a girl is mocked for being plump or skinny, a boy for the size of his genitals), to slut-shaming (a girl is considered as an “easy lay” for daring pose naked in front of a camera lens), to outing (a person’s infidelity, sexual orientation, or sexual taste is disclosed).
Like all forms of cyber violence, revenge porn is rooted in sexism, homophobia and gender stereotypes. Although no one is safe from it, girls are more likely than boys to be targeted. Most of the cases reported in the media recently were about women – famous or not – and girls. When a boy’s images are broadcast, there is no consequence (except the cases of mocking, outing or disclosing). But it is not the same story for a girl. Her intimacy and privacy are not only violated, but she is also subjected to slut shaming, cyber bullying, and harassment.
Revenge porn is a sexual violence, even if it is not legally considered as. Its consequences are the same as with sexual abuse: some victims feel dirty, defiled, ashamed, and guilty. Moreover, knowing that the pictures or the videos have been shared and viewed by many people amplified these feelings. “It made me feel incredibly violated and unsafe and embarrassed”, explained Gina Martin, a British girl who has been subjected to upskirting – another kind of revenge porn – while she was enjoying herself at a music festival in July 2017. Therefore, the Cyber Civil Right Initiative talks about « cyber-rape » rather than « revenge porn ».
Revenge porn is a sexual abuse which can be repeated over and over again, because digital contents leave digital footprints. They may resurface and reappear at any time in the future. Victims have a sword of Damocles hanging over their head.