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Revenge Porn: How to Prevent it and How to Combat it

Last edited: September 21, 2020
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Summary: What to Do When You're the Victim of Revenge Porn

When someone shares explicit photos or videos of you online without your permission, you might find yourself the victim of revenge porn. This can be very traumatizing. Here are a couple of tips that’ll help you figure out what steps to take:

  • Make sure there are people near who know about the situation and can support you.
  • Research your local laws and contact the authorities if possible.
  • Contact the platform where the images are being spread and ask them to take down the content.

Many countries have laws that make revenge porn illegal. Chances are, your local laws can protect you as an innocent victim.

If you’d like more information about how to prevent revenge porn, how to delete images from the internet, and what to do if you come across other people’s revenge porn footage, you can read our full article below.

A disturbing trend in the internet age is the prevalence of revenge porn. In cases of revenge porn, a person’s private, sexually explicit photos or videos are distributed online without their consent. Often, the person who shared these images online is an ex of the victim. Revenge porn can have devastating consequences for the victim, including psychological distress and a tarnished reputation. Read on to learn more about revenge porn, and how to protect yourself from it.

What is Revenge Porn?

Revenge porn is defined by the U.S. government as “the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress.” In addition to the photos and videos, the perpetrator sometimes shares personal information about the victim, such as contact information or a home address. In addition to causing psychological damage, the person’s safety may be compromised if their personal information is shared. Victims of revenge porn most commonly are young women from the ages 16 to 26.

Revenge porn most commonly happens after a sexual relationship ends. One partner then posts intimate photos or videos online as an act of revenge. This is where the term “revenge porn” comes from. However, in many places perpetrators can be prosecuted without the revenge component. It’s enough if they released the content without the other person’s consent with the intent to harm them.

The online dangers of revenge porn

File XXX gets duplicated on the internetThe term “revenge porn” doesn’t cover all cases. It isn’t always an ex that posts images on the internet after a relationship. Sometimes the images are obtained by strangers through a hack. This is often the case with celebrities, such as actors and musicians. Sometimes, hackers install malware on a device to be able to spy on you through your own webcam. Consequently, they’re able to blackmail you with this illegally obtained footage.

Revenge porn is often shared massively on websites and within so-called expose groups. These are private chat groups or websites that are used to spread leaked private images. Before, it was even possible to share revenge porn on Facebook. Revenge porn can be shared simply and within a matter of seconds, which makes it all the more devastating for the victim. After all, just one person could share the video or photo with their entire friend network with just one click.

How Common is Revenge Porn?

Revenge porn is unfortunately more common than many people think. A 2017 study by Cyber Civil Rights Initiative discovered that 1 in 8 American social media users have been targets of revenge porn. The study recruited 3,044 individuals, and 8% had been victims of nonconsensual porn victimization (NCP) at some point. About 5.2% of participants admitted to perpetrating NCP. The study also found that women were 1.7 times as likely to be victims than men.

A 2016 study by the Data & Society Research Institute found that approximately 10 million Americans were either victims of NCP or were threatened by it. The research also indicated that young women, minorities, and those who identify as LGBTQ are most likely to be victims of revenge porn. In fact, DMCA.com, which provides internet protection services, states that 95% of the cases they see are women and teenage girls.

Why Do People Post Revenge Porn?

The main reason for posting revenge porn seems fairly obvious. After a break-up, one person is angry with the other and decides to post images that were only intended for their eyes. In other words, frustration about a broken relationship results in revenge porn. However, there are other factors that contribute to the frequent posting of online revenge porn as well.

One of the other reasons for posting revenge porn is the status you derive from it. In online expose groups, people who post sexually oriented videos or photos of another people are seen as powerful. Often, they become quite popular, while the content they uploaded is seen as a “trophy”.

Another factor that plays a role in the distribution of revenge porn is online anonymity. Nowadays it’s incredibly easy to upload pictures on the internet without harming your own privacy. This means that the chances that the perpetrator will be punished for distributing images are very small.

Finally, there are some websites that’ll pay uploaders for pornographic images. These websites (often deliberately) won’t check whether these images were legally produced. In such cases, revenge porn can end up on paid porn sites. Even legal porn websites are known to have revenge porn as part of their libraries. In these cases, a perpetrator who uploads the images might actually make money off of it.

Consequences for Victims

Stalker watching from the bushesThe consequences for revenge porn victims are worrying. Often, various people online will turn to stalking the victim after the images have been posted. This is a major invasion of privacy. In the case of expose groups, images often include personal data, such as a link to the victim’s social media account. This can lead to disastrous cases of cyber bullying.

In addition to stalking, these types of images can cause other major problems. The consequences can spread to every aspect of a person’s life: it can be very embarrassing to see images of yourself on the internet. How do you explain such a thing to family and friends? Many victims don’t even dare to discuss it with their loved ones.

Revenge pornography can also severely damage your reputation. Once the images have been posted online, it’s often difficult to completely remove them. Especially if the victim’s name is included with the content, the images will quickly appear with a simple Google search. This could be very detrimental during a job interview, for example.

In addition, perhaps the biggest consequence of revenge pornography is that it can lead to mental health problems. Feelings of shame, powerlessness, and sadness could start to play a major role in the victim’s life. This is certainly the case when the outside world blames the victim for the revenge porn, instead of supporting them.

How to Prevent Revenge Porn

There are a number of steps you can take to keep revenge porn from happening to you. Here are some of the most effective things you can do:

Never share intimate photos

One of the best ways to protect yourself is to never share intimate photos with anyone. Don’t post them online, whether it’s on Snapchat, on your Facebook wall, or in a private message to your partner on WhatsApp. Even if you trust the person, sending them such a picture means that there’s a risk they will post it online without your consent. They might even be hacked, leaking the content that way.

In an ideal world, we’d be able to trust our partners unconditionally with any kind of footage we send them. However, the truth remains that a partner or friend is usually the perpetrator of revenge porn.

Avoid taking explicit photos of yourself

For maximum protection against revenge porn, don’t take explicit pictures of yourself. If you wouldn’t want family, friends, or employers seeing the photo, it’s best not to take it at all.

Even if you aren’t intending to share the photos, they can still end up in the wrong hands. Data breaches are common these days, and hackers can steal people’s private photos and distribute them. This most frequently happens to celebrities, but it could happen to anyone. Keep in mind that any device with a camera might be able to connect to the internet, meaning it’s vulnerable to these kinds of attacks.

Moreover, if anyone takes an intimate photo of you, ask them to delete it, and make sure they actually do.

Alter your photos to protect your identity

stay anonymous onlineIf you really want to take intimate photos of yourself, it’d be wise to alter them to conceal your identity. It’s best not to include your face in pictures so you can’t be recognized as easily if the pictures do end up being leaked. If your face is visible, you can always cut it from the picture or blur it. If possible, blur the background and any other recognizable features as well. This includes tattoos, for example.

Also turn off any geo-tagging options on your devices. One relatively simple way to get rid of any metadata would be to take a picture, then take a screenshot of said picture and post or share that.

Talk to your children about the risks of sexting

If you have children, especially teenagers, it’s important to talk to them about the risks of sharing intimate photos of themselves. While this might be an uncomfortable topic, your children need to understand the dangers involved. They should be aware that the photos they share could be used without their consent and that they can’t trust everybody online, sometimes not even their best friends.

For more information about online security and privacy for children, read our detailed guide.

Be aware of your surroundings

Be mindful of your surroundings, especially when you’re at a club, party, or public event. Some of these events have photographers present. Moreover, almost anyone has a smartphone with a decent camera these days. Any picture they take, could end up online.

While these photos might not be as private as those you take in the comfort of your own home, we’d still like to advise you to be cautious. Keep away from these photographers if you don’t want pictures of yourself to end up online. Above all, don’t let anyone photograph you in a compromising position.

What to Do When You’re the Victim of Revenge Porn

You may still find that a photo or video of you has been leaked. If you end up being the victim of revenge porn, know that you’re not alone. Here are some tips to help you out.

Know that you’re not to blame

While there are steps you can take to reduce the chances of becoming a victim of revenge porn, this doesn’t mean that victims are to blame. We shouldn’t place the responsibility for these crimes with the victims (“you shouldn’t have taken that picture”, “you asked for it”, etc.), but with the perpetrators. These perpetrators should know that they could destroy a victim’s life when they post revenge porn, and that that shouldn’t be tolerated.

Whether you sent an explicit photo to a loved one, or did not object when someone made a video of you, the distribution of those images without your permission is never your fault. The person who was in possession of these images has betrayed your trust, and they’re the ones at fault.

Research local laws on revenge porn

If you are a victim of revenge porn, there are laws that can help you. Many countries have passed legislation making revenge porn a crime. In the UK, revenge porn is illegal and can result in jail time. Many other European countries such as Germany, France, and Denmark also have national laws against revenge porn. The US doesn’t have a national law, although 38 states have legislation targeting revenge porn. Some other countries that criminalize revenge porn include Israel, Japan, and the Philippines.

CCRI-logo

In many places, revenge porn is illegal, though the laws are relatively new and differ between countries. If you are a target of revenge porn, the first thing you should do is research your national or state laws. You need to find out what legislation has been passed and how to proceed. Once you’re clear on the laws, you can speak with your local law enforcement. Alternately, you can contact a lawyer to get advice on how to proceed. If you live in the United States, another option is calling the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative crisis hotline if you need help or advice.

Ask websites to remove the picture

Besides contacting law enforcement, it’s important to try to get the pictures or videos off the internet as soon as possible. First aim to remove the original source: the page where the images first showed up. Once that’s done, you can trace down possible copies.

Contact the platform where the images have been placed in order to make sure they’re removed. This applies to more traditional websites as well as social media networks such as Google, Reddit, Snapchat, and Tumblr. Report the case by stating the facts in a calm way and ask the platform to take the images offline, as they have been distributed without your permission. A helpful resource to guide you through the removal process is the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative’s Online Removal Guide.

Some websites have specific pages where you can fill in contact forms in order to limit the damage as quickly as possible. Pornhub is an example of this. Their contact form can be found on this page. For deleting personal explicit content that can be found on Xvideos, you can fill in this form.

In some cases, you may want to consider hiring a lawyer or a third party company. Nowadays, there are several companies that will help you trace and delete images on the internet. Unfortunately, these companies are mainly effective for removing images from websites; it’s much more difficult to enforce this on social media. Moreover, these companies sometimes cost a lot of money, so make sure you’re aware of any possible costs in advance.

Are you underage?

computer screen with 18+ logoUsually, the legal age when it comes to porn is eighteen or sixteen, depending on where you live. If you are not of legal age yet, the spreading of explicit images of you can be considered child porn. In this case, we would first like to advise you to call in the help of your parents or a confidant.

Secondly, it’s important to contact the website that contains the images as soon as possible. Tell them your age and that you never gave permission for these images to be posted. Demand that the images be taken offline immediately. Since this concerns child pornography, most websites will be very quick to remove the material.

If possible, you should also contact the police or law enforcement, as mentioned previously. Deciding to take legal action can be incredibly hard and a painful process to go through. Therefore, always try to make sure you have people near who support you and can help you when necessary.

How to Stop Revenge Porn

It’s important that victims of revenge porn know which actions to take, but there’s more. Anyone around them, or anyone who comes into contact with revenge porn in some other way, can help by taking just a small step in the right direction:

  • Never post images of others online without permission, whether they are explicit photos or more innocent images. Always take the privacy of friends, family, and anyone else into account and take care not to violate it.
  • Don’t spread revenge porn any further when you come across it. Don’t help popularize someone else’s sensitive images through retweeting, sharing them on Facebook, forwarding them to online groups, or by any other means perpetuating the visuals. Keep in mind that the possession and distribution of revenge pornography is considered illegal in many countries.
  • Disapprove of the behavior of others when they participate in the distribution of revenge porn. Creating an environment in which the sharing of revenge pornography is no longer seen as ‘tough’ or ‘funny’ is essential if we want things to change.

Final Thoughts

Revenge porn is a dangerous trend that has grown rapidly in popularity and remains widespread. It could happen to anyone, but happens most often to younger women. Revenge porn can be very traumatic for the victim, so it’s important to know how to react in such a situation.

Although there are laws against revenge porn in many countries, it’s often still very difficult to completely remove the images from the internet. Prevention is better than cure, so the most important thing is to make sure no one ever gets the chance to distribute sensitive photos or videos of you online. The best way to do this is by thinking very consciously about what’s visible in the pictures and videos you take of yourself and with whom you share those.

If you do become a victim, know that the person who spread the images is to blame. Contact the police and the website on which the images are being distributed. Also make sure you’re surrounded by people who can support you. If you come into contact with revenge porn in any other way, never spread these images any further and make sure to openly disapprove of the behavior of people who do.

What is Revenge Porn? - FAQ

If you have a specific question about revenge porn, our frequently asked questions below might help you find your way. Simply click on a question to read the answer.

Revenge porn is the sharing of sexual images or videos without permission. Often revenge porn occurs when an ex wants to take revenge on their partner after a broken relationship. Revenge porn is punishable in many countries and has serious consequences for the victim.

First of all, it’s important to realize that this situation is not your fault: someone has betrayed your trust and openly shared images of you without permission. You can take action by following these steps:

  1. Make sure you have people around who can support you.
  2. Check your local laws on revenge porn, contact the police and report the situation if possible.
  3. Contact the website on which the images have been distributed to request the content is removed.

You can find more information on this page.

Revenge porn could happen to anyone. However, there are measures you can take to reduce the chance of someone distributing unwanted images of you.

  • Don’t take explicit pictures or videos of yourself.
  • Don’t share explicit photos or videos of yourself with others.
  • Make sure you aren’t recognizable in any sensitive photos and videos you share with others.
  • Talk to your child about the dangers of sexting to protect them as well.
  • Be aware that people can also take pictures of you in public places.

In most cases, revenge porn is about one thing: vengeance. The perpetrator wants to get back at an ex after a relationship has ended. However, they do so by committing an unfair and unnecessary crime.

Revenge pornography is often stimulated in specific online groups: people who share these images are seen as heroes and gain popularity and status. To stop this, it’s important to make people aware of the dangers and nasty consequences of revenge porn.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. Since 2019 she is VPNoverview.com's cybersecurity news coordinator.

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