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Here's what counts as revenge porn and how to protect yourself against it.

What Counts As Revenge Porn & How To Protect Yourself Against It

Plus, what legal action you can take.

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Seeing red, a guy sends out a mass Snapchat of his ex-girlfriend’s nudes after finding out she started dating again. It’s a straightforward case of revenge porn, but they’re not all like that. Revenge doesn’t have to be the motive in sharing these images. In fact, revenge porn might be a misleading name for this type of abuse, which affects one in 25 Americans, per the Center for Innovative Public Health Research’s 2016 study.

Any non-consensual sharing of intimate images qualifies as revenge porn — even if retribution has nothing to do with it. Per the National Association of the Attorneys General, revenge porn is “defined as the distribution of sexually graphic images or videos of an individual without their consent in the context of an intimate relationship.”

It can be done by a current significant other, a friend, or an acquaintance as a way of exerting power or control. Revenge porn can look like a hacker posting your nude photos online, a dating app crush threatening to share your nudes if you block them, or even your boyfriend showing your sex tape to his friends. “It’s an attempt to embarrass, shame, and try to ruin the person’s reputation,” Kristen Lilla, LCSW, tells Elite Daily.

Recent allegations against Kanye West illustrate the limits of the “revenge” narrative when defining this type of abuse. On Nov. 22, Rolling Stone published a report based on interviews with several of West’s employees and colleagues. Per their accounts, West often shared explicit images and videos — sometimes of his then-wife Kim Kardashian — while at work. West reportedly shared intimate photos of Kardashian during job interviews with candidates and played their sex tapes for those working at Yeezy. “My wife just sent me this,” West reportedly said in 2018, showing a “very revealing and personal” photo of Kardashian to an interviewee. At the time, West and Kardashian were still together.

Kardashian has not spoken out on the report, so there’s no way to know whether she consented to West sharing sexually explicit images of her. Still, the story underscores the multitude of ways revenge porn can play out in people’s lives.

The Effects Of Revenge Porn

Revenge porn can have a devastating impact on victims, most of whom are female. A survey by Cyber Civil Rights Initiative found that 90% of victims of revenge porn were women. A 2016 study by the Center for Innovative Public Health Research found that one in 10 women under the age of 30 “have experienced threats of non-consensual image sharing, a much higher rate than either older women or older and younger men.” Among lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans, the number is even higher: 17% have been the victim of revenge porn or been threatened with it.

Regardless of the motive, revenge porn can have severe and painful consequences for survivors. According to Ariella Grosse, LMSW, victims of this kind of abuse can experience “low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and substance misuse.” Nicole Richardson, LPC-S, LMFT-S, adds, “Revenge porn can isolate people from their friends and family. It’s a betrayal by someone a person likely thought they could trust, which makes it difficult to trust romantic partners in the future.” Revenge porn is a complete violation of confidence, something that is foundational to romantic relationships. Without serious emotional work, focused on trauma recovery, it can feel difficult for survivors to open up to future partners and feel safe.

Beyond the mental health impact, revenge porn can also cause “reputational damage,” per the Center for Innovative Public Health Research. If the images or videos contain identifying information, they can lead to further intimidation and harassment from those viewing them. Former Congressional representative Katie Hill is one famous example of the harmful effects of revenge porn. Following the leak of her private photos, Hill resigned from Congress after receiving threats that more non-consensual pornography would be released.

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How To Protect Yourself Against Revenge Porn

Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to guard yourself against revenge porn. “There is no perfect way to protect yourself, as images can be taken without your consent,” Richardson says. Per the study from the Center for Innovative Public Health Research, 43% of victims (those whose images have been posted and those who have been threatened with revenge porn) have also been victims of hackers. In other words, even if you carefully guard your sexually explicit photos and videos, there’s no guarantee that they will be safe.

Still, there are some things you can do to minimize your risk. Richardson suggests, “If you do choose to pose for photos, it could be a good idea to avoid having your face in the photos or other distinctive marks like tattoos.” Avoiding any nude photos altogether is another potential protective measure, though Lilla notes, that this “puts the onus on victims.” At the end of the day, it’s an unrealistic expectation to never take or send a nude picture.

What To Do If It Happens To You

If you’re a victim of this type of abuse, you may be able to take legal action. Revenge porn is illegal in 46 states, and many lawyers have offered to take these cases on a pro or low bono basis. And yet, the decision to pursue legal recourse can be complicated and emotionally fraught for survivors. Per Lillia, it can be “psychologically distressing” and “cause re-victimization,” so consider all of your options carefully before taking this step.

The legal penalty for revenge porn varies, depending on whether it’s classified as a felony or misdemeanor. “In the event that the images were captured when the person was a minor or without their consent, there is a clear crime that police can assist with,” Richardson says. “If the victim is an adult and the image was taken with consent, the recourse varies wildly based on the state in which you live as well as how and where they were shared.” Depending on where the private images are posted, your smartest course of action may change.

For victims who live in states where revenge porn is not illegal — including Wyoming, Mississippi, South Carolina and Massachusetts — there’s no straightforward path for pursuing legal recourse.

Your options don’t end with the law, though. “Know that this is a form of sexual abuse, and take care of yourself accordingly,” Grosse says. “Look into resources for victims of abuse or find a support group to help you process.” Speaking with a therapist or calling into a hotline, such as the CCRI Image Abuse Helpline (844-878-2274), can also help.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.

If you are the victim of intimate image abuse, you can call the CCRI Image Abuse Helpline at 844-878-CCRI (2274) or visit cybercivilrights.org.

Sources:

Kristen Lilla, LCSW

Ariella Grosse, LMSW

Nicole Richardson, LPC-S, LMFT-S