Revenge porn: unnecessary and indefensible

Illustration by Chris Kindred.

Shane Wade
Opinion Editor 

Editor’s note: This article may be triggering for some readers.

Whether you’re a celebrity whose ex-partner chooses to release a homemade sex tape to a website in order to make a quick buck or a struggling student who finds a profitable profession to pay for your tuition, having your privacy violated and being digitally exploited can be disastrously easy. The intimate moments and images that you exchange with someone are increasingly seen as commodities by unscrupulous people who want to engage in the act of revenge pornography.

Revenge porn is sexually explicit pictures or videos uploaded and distributed online with the intent of humiliating and exploiting a non-consenting person. The offending party, usually an ex-partner or a hacker, will sometimes include personal information about the subject, ranging from their name to links for their social media profiles.

Roughly 50 percent of Americans share intimate images and videos with their partners, according to a 2013 survey by McAfee Security. That number can appear surprisingly low when considering the prevalence and convenience presented by technology. Sharing parts of ourselves, be it a physical sense or an emotional sense, is a basic element of our humanity; we all do it to varying degrees.

The issue, however, comes when you consider that 10 percent of ex-partners have threatened to post compromising photos of their exes online and nearly 60 percent of that 10 percent followed through with that threat and posted the material online.

The secondary issue with revenge porn, as with most issues concerning the civil and social rights of women when they threaten the patriarchal power structure, is that people too often blame the victim for allowing the initially consenting exchange to occur.

Legally, you own the copyright to any picture you take of yourself and can make a request with the site’s service provider to remove the material, but it can still exist on other websites and forums. As a permanent fixture on the web, it can be found by family members or potential employers with enough digging.

That’s why it’s so damaging to people, especially women, who are the common target of revenge porn. Even though women outpace men in earning college degrees, women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes and are more likely to work low-wage, “pink-collar” service jobs. Add “has nude pictures online” to that resume and the impossibility of reaching a managerial or leadership role is cemented.

There are serious psychological and real-world consequences to this type of abuse, with more than 80 percent of revenge porn victims (60 to 70 percent of whom are women) experiencing severe stress and anxiety, according to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. The effects include post-traumatic stress syndrome, anxiety disorders, paranoia, employment discrimination, stalking and harassment.

Fortunately, there are a number of organizations and legislative bodies combating the issue. Dr. Holly Jacobs’ organization “End Revenge Porn” provides emotional support and resources to victims. California and Maryland legislatures are working on passing bills that criminalize posting images of an individual without their consent. There’s also smaller support for a federal law that would similarly address revenge porn, although the proposals are being protested by the American Civil Liberties Union because of they claim they infringe on the right to free speech.

While it may not seem like a particularly virulent problem affecting our campus, revenge porn does exist here, through people casually letting friends peruse through privately taken pictures on their phone and through vengeful exes taking to social media and other websites to humiliate their former partners. Particularly in the socially liberal environment of a college campus, it’s important to be aware of the prevalence, consequences and defenses against being exploited in such a vile manner.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Do your part by being informed, supporting anti-revenge porn organizations and dissuading people that might engage in it. Revenge porn may appear to be a petty issue and just an irritant to the unfamiliar, but in reality, it’s a difficult trauma that we all have a responsibility in helping to curb.

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