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Will new laws curb ‘revenge porn’?

Will new laws curb ‘revenge porn’? July 17, 2014Leave a comment

Rewind to almost a decade ago to my awkward adolescence when social media sites such as Facebook and MySpace were new and exciting places where teenagers could interact with their peers. Privacy settings were not yet a concern. Profiles and pages were open to the public, and other young people were added to ‘friends lists’ with barely a second thought.

It was in this open social web of yesteryear when I stumbled upon a particularly disturbing Facebook page well outside of my social network. Young teenage boys were posting seemingly innocent pictures of fully clothed teenage girls, captioned with details of their alleged sexual exploits, with some choice gender-based slurs for anyone who came across that page to see.

Social media was just in its infancy yet it was already being used as a misogynistic tool to degrade and humiliate young women, using patriarchal notions of virtue as a means to abuse them. Pan back to the present and what has been done to curb the sexualised cyberbullying of young women and girls?

Cyberbullying is any form of bullying done via a mobile phone or a social media site. Young people are particularly vulnerable to cyberbullying. The Annual Cyberbullying Survey 2013 published by Ditch The Label, found that 70 per cent of the 10,008 13 to 22 year olds surveyed across the UK had been victims of cyberbullying. A UK study by the Net Children Go Mobile internet safety project showed that more children reported being bullied on the internet than face-to-face, a reversal of the 2010 figures.

Overall, 15 per cent of nine to 16-year-olds had been “bothered, uncomfortable or upset” by something online in the past year, with girls more likely to report such experiences. The number of children in the same age group who reported seeing sexual images in the past year has fallen from 24 per cent to 17 per cent but remains more common among teenagers, and girls who are also more likely to report being upset by this.

One form of cyberbullying which young women are increasingly the target of is “revenge porn” – the sharing of sexually explicit images of former partners online – either obtained consensually or stolen and used without the consent of the individual to humiliate them following a break up.

There are 30 UK websites hosting revenge porn, and an estimated 80 per cent of videos or images featured are of young women. In some cases, personal details have been published alongside them, or the material have been dropped onto large amateur pornographic websites with visitor traffic of several millions a month.

Hunter Moore, founder of one such website, was arrested by the FBI in January 2014 on charges of conspiracy, unauthorised access to a protected computer and aggravated identity theft after it was found that he paid a partner to hack hundreds of email accounts for nude content for his website IsAnyoneUp. However, Moore was not indicted for publishing revenge porn and personal information about what was mainly young women, on his site.

While nine US states have laws against revenge porn, there are no federal laws. After numerous lawsuits, Moore sold his revenge porn site to an anti-bullying group. Despite some other major revenge porn sites following Moore’s lead and have dropped off the internet, the non-consensual distribution of sexual content on the internet remains a growing problem.

Women’s organisations including Women’s AID UK and online support groups such as the UK Safer Internet Centre have called for the British government to follow the example of those states in America which have introduced specific laws aimed at stopping revenge porn. At present, legal action can only be considered if it violates copyright law or if the victim is under 18 years old.

Earlier this month, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the government was ‘very open’ to discussing the criminalisation of revenge porn and acknowledged it as a serious problem. But campaigners also point out that there are already laws in place that have failed to prevent abuse because of how they have been applied.

This problem cannot be fudged any longer as young women’s lives are being ruined as a result.

Mesha McNeil is Digital Women UK’s youth coordinator.

Image credit: commons.wikimedia.org/AndresD

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