Revenge Porn: How to Fight Back and Prevent It (2022)

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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 are a target of nonconsensual porn or revenge porn. This can be very traumatizing.

It’s important that you know that you are not to blame and that there are clear steps you can take:

  • Make sure you’ve got people around you to support you, whether in real life or online. You are not alone.
  • Take screenshots of the website and the username of the person who shared your photos.
  • Research the revenge porn legislation in your country or state and, if possible, contact local law enforcement.
  • Send a removal request to the websites where you’ve found the photos or videos.

In the article below you can find more information, resources, and several step-by-step guides to request content removal from social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.

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.

It’s very common for people to exchange nude photos with one another. According to Scientific American, nearly half of all adults in the United States have sexually-charged photos, texts, or videos on their smartphones.

In the case of revenge porn (also known as non-consensual pornography), a person’s private, sexually explicit photos and videos are distributed online without their consent. Falling victim to revenge porn can have devastating consequences, including psychological distress and a tarnished reputation.

Are you worried that private photos of you might be circulating online? In this article, we go over what to do if you’re a victim of revenge porn, as well as some best practices for preventing it.


What is Revenge Porn?

What is revenge porn iconThe US government defines revenge porn 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.”

Of course, the term “revenge porn” is a bit of a misnomer: there isn’t always a clear revenge motive. While it is common that perpetrators of nonconsensual pornography are ex-partners, explicit photos or videos can also be shared for the sake of extortion, control, or plain maliciousness.

In addition to photos and videos, personal information about the victim, such as contact information or a home address, may also be posted online, commonly known as doxing.

Since it’s easy enough to distribute photos online, revenge porn has become widespread. The most common victims of revenge porn are young women between the ages of 16 and 26. According to Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), a nonprofit focused on fighting revenge porn, it’s women who take the brunt of the punishment.

While men’s nude images online will receive little to no adverse reaction — in fact, they may be applauded — women are often actively shamed. It’s a response that’s all too common, unfortunately. People’s first reaction is often: “Why would she do that?” rather than “Why would someone do that to her?”

This type of victim-blaming is harmful and has severe consequences: not only does revenge porn compromise someone’s physical safety, but it can also cause long-lasting trauma or psychological damage.

Revenge porn is an act of abuse. It doesn’t matter if photos were taken with initial consent. Once they are distributed online against a victim’s will, it’s a criminal offense.

How is revenge porn obtained?

How is revenge porn obtainedAs stated, the term “revenge porn” doesn’t apply to all cases equally. Sometimes, nude images are obtained through a deliberate hack that affects thousands of women at once.

In the case of such a massive revenge porn scandal, it’s not an ex who shares explicit images online, but a cybercriminal or a network of hackers. They often target celebrities.

A different way for criminals to obtain nonconsensual pornography is by installing malware on your devices or hacking into your home network. By accessing smart tech in your house, such as security cameras or baby monitors, they can easily obtain sensitive footage.

One way to limit the chances of this happening is by securing your Wi-Fi network.

Where does revenge porn end up?

Where does revenge porn end up iconRevenge porn is widely shared on specific websites and within so-called “expose groups” on social media. In most cases, revenge porn is shared anonymously, so it’s hard to track who leaked it.

Before Facebook tightened its content regulations, it was possible to share revenge porn there. Now perpetrators go to websites like 4Chan or 8Chan, described by the New York Times as, “one of the darkest corners of the web”.

The anonymity of these revenge porn websites makes them ideal for sharing. Revenge porn is also common on the dark web. Since this is a largely unregulated online world, law enforcement has trouble keeping the distribution of nonconsensual pornography under control.


How Common is Revenge Porn?

Unfortunately, revenge porn is more common than many people think. In 2017, CCRI conducted a very comprehensive study into revenge porn. Some things that stand out:

Infographic showing how common is revenge porn

  • 1 in 8 social media users in the United States has been the target of revenge porn.
  • 90% of revenge porn victims are women.
  • 57% of victims said their material was posted by an ex-boyfriend.

Additional research by the Data & Society Research Institute found that young women, minorities, and LGBTQI+ people are most likely to be victims of revenge porn.

Historically, there have been little to no consequences for the perpetrators of revenge porn. Until recently, sharing someone else’s nude photos without their consent wasn’t even considered a crime.

However, in recent years, more and more US states have begun to adopt legislation around online harassment like cyberstalking and cyberbullying. Punishment includes fines and jail penalties.

Below, you can find out more about the specific laws that apply to nonconsensual pornography.


Why Do People Post Revenge Porn?

Why do people post revenge porn infographic

While it might seem like the reason for distributing revenge porn is fairly obvious — the desire to harm someone after a bad break-up — more often than not, other factors play a part.

  • Online validation: On forums where these photos are shared, a type of hierarchy exists, where every video or photo you share is a “trophy” that improves your social position in the group.
  • Anonymity: The fact that it’s so easy to distribute revenge pornography online, even anonymously, means malicious actors share them without any concern about the consequences.
  • Financial reward: There are certain websites that will pay uploaders for pornographic images. These sites will, often deliberately, not check whether the content is legally obtained.

Dangers of Revenge Porn: Consequences for Victims

Infographic showing dangers of revenge porn

Being a victim of revenge porn can have serious consequences. It’s not only a matter of physical and emotional harm; having sexual photos of yourself online without your consent can affect your present-day life and future in all sorts of ways.

For the majority of young women who fall victim to nonconsensual pornography, the consequences are absolutely punishing.

Stalking and physical harm

One of the biggest risks to revenge porn is physical danger. Often, identifying information is posted along with sexually charged content, which creates very unsafe situations for the victim. According to research:

  • 1 in 12 U.S. adults reports that they have been a victim of “revenge porn.”
  • 1 in 20 report perpetration of revenge porn (Ruvalcaba & Eaton, 2020). Women are more likely to be victims of revenge porn than men.
  • Women who experience revenge porn report higher rates of psychological problems (Ruvalcaba & Eaton, 2020).
  • 92% of victims of revenge porn are women (Uhl et al., 2018).

It’s not uncommon that victims of revenge porn are stalked, either online or physically.

Extortion and blackmail

Revenge porn often includes an element of extortion or blackmail. There’s the threat of posting sexual photos of someone in the first place. But sextortion can continue once content is already distributed.

For example, by threatening to post even more sexual photos or content that’s increasingly more personal or explicit. When it comes to blackmailing, a victim can be forced to do “personal favors” for the perpetrator. However, in most cases, they have to pay money.

Online harassment

Since revenge porn is shared with groups of people, a victim is often exposed to excessive forms of online harassment. This can include anything from aggressive messages and cyberbullying to actual death threats or rape threats.

Considering the fact that women, and especially women of color, minorities, and LGBTQI+ individuals, are most vulnerable to revenge porn, this harassment is often sexist, racist, homophobic, or transphobic in nature.

Psychological distress

People that are targeted by revenge porn are under a lot of psychological distress. Research shows that they experience symptoms similar to victims of sexual abuse:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia and night terrors
  • Panic attacks
  • Isolation

The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative found that 51 percent of revenge porn victims reported having suicidal thoughts.

Feelings of shame, powerlessness, and sadness can start to play a major role in a victim’s life. Rather than being supported, victims are often blamed for what happened, both by their personal support network as well as by official authorities.

Damaged reputation

It shouldn’t be the case — there is nothing shameful about engaging in sexual contact with other people, even online — but as a result of general victim-blaming, women targeted by revenge porn can experience extreme reputation loss.

All too often, nude photos end up in the hands of a victim’s family, friends, classmates, colleagues, supervisors, or bosses. Since it’s difficult to remove content online, revenge porn can have a permanent effect and compromise someone’s career.

Again, it’s women who are disproportionately blamed, despite the fact that, in the majority of cases, men distribute this content.

If you’re a victim of revenge porn, it’s important to remember that you’re not to blame. No matter what they might say, no one has the right to share photos or videos of you without your explicit permission.

Sexting is a normal part of modern relationships. While online privacy is something to guard in all interactions with people, you are not to be held responsible for someone else’s abuse.


Deepfakes: A New Type of Revenge Porn

Deepfakes iconThere’s a new type of revenge porn on the rise: deepfake porn. Even if you’ve never taken a nude photo of yourself in your entire life, there’s still a chance you can fall victim to nonconsensual pornography.

This is because deepfake technology — media generated and manipulated by AI — allows abusers to insert your face into pornographic content.

The rise of deepfake pornography is absolutely horrifying. While deepfake tech has been primarily linked to political danger, research by Sensity AI showed that 90% to 95% of all deepfake content is nonconsensual porn — and, again, 90% of that is porn that victimizes women.

In 2019, an AI app called DeepNude could virtually undress women. During the COVID-19 pandemic, digital abuse has seen an uptick, since people are spending more time online.

Deepfake pornography reflects a larger issue of how tech is being weaponized against women, and the various ways it increases sexual violence against women, both online and offline. Though deepfake footage might not be real, the effects on victims’ mental and physical health are equally damaging.


What To Do if You’re a Victim of Revenge Porn?

Infographic showing what to do if you are a victim of revenge porn

If you find that sexual photos or videos of you have been leaked online, know that you’re not at fault. While online security is something to take seriously, no one gets to share intimate images of you without your consent.

It doesn’t matter whether you sent an explicit photo to a lover, or didn’t object when someone took a video of you. The person who shared this content online is the one who has committed a crime, no matter the initial situation.

Below, you will find a wide range of resources that can support you, as well as clear steps you can take if you’re trying to take content off the internet.

Collect evidence

While it may be uncomfortable, it’s a good idea to collect evidence of the explicit material and where it’s shared. Take screenshots of revenge porn websites and usernames, as well as any harassment or threats you receive.

Down the line, having proof of how exactly you’ve been victimized can help build your case. If you’re worried about how to store this content share them with the people who are there to help you, use a private email service, or a secure cloud space.

Know your rights

Currently, revenge porn is illegal in 48 states in the United States, as well as Washington D.C. and two territories. While the degree of criminality varies, it’s important to note that there are laws targeting revenge porn that you can fall back on.

On the CCRI website, you can see an overview of legislation per state. Just click on a specific state to find out how revenge porn is viewed legally. They’ve also got an overview of sextortion laws and deepfake laws.

Once you’re clear on the laws, you can speak with local law enforcement. This can be the police or a lawyer. Keep in mind that:

  • You have the right to demand that images are destroyed or taken down.
  • You have the right to hold the perpetrator accountable through criminal and/or civil action.

Legislation

Nowadays, there are more lawsuits involving revenge porn than ever before. The basis for legal action depends on state legislation as well as your personal case. Most often, legal claims will be based on privacy violations, cyber harassment, and extortion.
However, it’s also possible to go down a different route. In both cases, it’s highly advised to seek legal counsel.

  • Defamation: If your personal life, including your reputation, has suffered, you might be able to make a claim for defamation. Damages can be emotional harm, medical or therapy costs, and loss of income.
  • Copyright law: Is the photo you’ve found online a selfie? In that case, it’s possible to make a claim on the basis of copyright law. If you can prove the photo is yours, you technically own the copyright and can have it removed.

Removing the content

If you’re looking to get photos or videos taken down, the easiest way to do so is by sending a takedown request to the websites that host the content. Here’s how.

Check the platform’s policies

Though social media websites are not liable for user-generated content, they will likely make an attempt to block revenge porn images. The main rules for different platforms are as follows:

  • Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter, and Yahoo do not allow nonconsensual porn.
  • On YouTube or Google Drive, sexually explicit content is generally disallowed.
  • On Google Play, users can flag inappropriate apps.
  • Microsoft removes nonconsensual porn that gets reported from their OneDrive, Xbox, and other consumer services.

Request removal

For search engines, you can often fill out a form to remove revenge porn from the results:

Keep in mind that removing something from search results, doesn’t actually delete content from the revenge porn site itself.
For Facebook, follow these steps:

  1. Click the photo or video you want to report.
  2. Click Options in the bottom right.
  3. Select Report Photo or Report video.

For Instagram, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the three dots on a post or profile.
  2. Tap Report or Report for Spam.
  3. Select It’s inappropriate.

For Reddit, follow these steps:

  1. Click the “comments” link under a post.
  2. Click “report.”
  3. Provide “involuntary pornography” as the report reason.
  4. Click Submit.

You can also send a URL to [email protected] to request removal. If you find photos or videos on a different platform, it can help to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act removal service.

You can fill out the form and request removal. Keep in mind that this is a paid-for and expensive service ($199 per removal request). If you’d rather use a free service, make sure they are legit.

Finally, you can also contact pornographic websites to request content removal. Pornhub has a form that you can fill out.

Important resources

One of the best resources is the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. You can access their 24-hour crisis hotline for immediate support.

Additional support can be found at:

If you’re concerned about your physical safety or the safety of someone you know, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

Are you underage?

Depending on where you live, the legal age when it comes to pornography is 16+ or 18+. If you’re underage and someone is spreading explicit images or videos of you online, this can be considered child pornography.

The best thing to do is call in the help of a parent, guardian, or an adult you trust. If you’re filling out content removal forms, make sure to mention your age and demand that the content is taken down immediately.

If possible, you should contact law enforcement. Deciding to take legal action can be a difficult and painful process to go through, so be sure to have people around you who support you and can help you out when necessary.


How to Prevent Revenge Porn

Infographic showing how to prevent revenge porn

Being involved with revenge porn or reading about it can make you fearful about having nude images circulating online. As deepfake technology illustrates, even complete abstinence from sending explicit photos can’t fully protect you from falling victim to nonconsensual porn.

Moreover, it’s important to keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with sending explicit photos to other people. Of course, an easy way to prevent revenge porn is by never sending any private images at all.

However, this unjustly places responsibility on the victim. Women shouldn’t have to exclude themselves from online life, just because men continue to abuse their privacy.

Still, it’s good to be mindful of the way we share intimate photos. Therefore we’ve outlined some good practices below.

Not even your partner gets to pressure you into doing anything. This also goes for strangers. If anyone takes an intimate photo or video of you, ask them to delete it, and, where you can, make sure they actually do.

Protect your identity in intimate photos

A good safety measure is to not include your face in nude selfies. If any sexual content gets leaked, it’s less likely that you’re recognized. You can cut it from a picture or blur it. The same goes for easily recognizable physical features or tattoos. You can even check the background of your photo to make sure it doesn’t reveal where you live.

Turn off geo-tagging on your devices

This limits the chances of your location leaking through. A good way to get rid of any metadata attached to your photos is to take a screenshot of the photo, rather than sharing it directly. If you’re a creator on a platform like OnlyFans, this can also be a useful safety measure.

Optimize your social media privacy settings

While you might think your social media accounts are private, it’s relatively easy for people to obtain photos from private accounts, including ones that you’ve deleted. This is why it’s good to optimize your Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat privacy settings.

Talk to your kids

Finally, it can be good to talk to your children about sexting and sharing intimate photos of themselves. Though teenagers are naturally curious about sexting and have a right to their own privacy, it can be useful to discuss safe practices with them.


Internet Safety: Protect Yourself Online

Infographic showing how to protect yourself online

If you have intimate photos stored on your devices, it can help to optimize your general internet safety. Here are some of our recommendations:

  • Start using a VPN. A VPN (virtual private network) is a software tool that encrypts your connection to the internet. It makes you way less vulnerable to cybercrime. On top of that, it protects your privacy. You can check out our top 5 best VPNs or read more about using a free VPN.
  • Invest in a good antivirus scanner. As discussed above, not all perpetrators of revenge porn are people we know. In some cases, criminals will use malware or phishing scams to hack into your device. If you want to protect yourself and make your photos less vulnerable to exposure, you should get an antivirus program.
  • Keep track of all your personal information with a good password manager.
  • Practice internet safety with your kids. Make sure your teenagers can use social media in a fun and safe way or learn from experts how to keep your younger kids protected online.

Final Thoughts: How to Stop Revenge Porn

Revenge porn is a dangerous trend that has grown rapidly in popularity and remains widespread. While it can happen to anyone, young women are disproportionally affected. This is also the case for deepfake porn, which is a different type of nonconsensual pornography.

Although support for revenge porn victims is growing and legislation is becoming better defined, the consequences for victims can be traumatic and long-lasting.

If you’ve found yourself targeted by revenge porn, here’s what you can do:

  • Use online resources such as the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative
  • Request content removal from social media platforms and search engines
  • Contact legal enforcement

It’s good to be mindful of safe sexting practices and try to limit any identifying features, but remember that you’re not to blame for someone else’s crime.

Revenge Porn: Frequently Asked Questions

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.

In the case of revenge porn or nonconsensual porn, someone has shared sexual images or videos of someone else without their consent.

The perpetrators are often men, who are deliberately looking to harm, shame, or embarrass their ex-partners. However, it’s also possible that images end up on the internet as a result of a hack or as deepfake pornography.

First of all, it’s important to realize that this situation is not your fault: the blame falls on the person who shared your images. Here’s how you can take action against revenge porn:

  1. Take screenshots of where you’ve found the images and who shared them.
  2. Research revenge porn legislation in your state, contact the police and report the situation if possible.
  3. Contact the website(s) on which the images have been distributed and send a removal request.

Revenge porn could happen to anyone. There’s nothing wrong about wanting to exchange nudes with someone and women should not be driven to change their ways because men continue to inflict violence upon them.

However, there are safer practices you can adopt to limit the chance that your photos are leaked online.

  • Don’t let others film or photograph you without your consent, not even partners.
  • Protect your identity in intimate photos by not showing your face or any distinct features.
  • Turn off geo-tagging on your devices.
  • Optimize your privacy settings on social media.

Revenge porn can have various motivating factors, including vengeance, control, extortion, harassment, and misogyny.

The rise of deepfake technology shows how tech is weaponized: even women who have never sent anyone a nude, can end up being sexually shamed in AI-manipulated pornography.

On certain forums and websites (Reddit, 4Chan, 8Chan), men who share images are praised and gain a lot of popularity.

Increasingly so, revenge porn is recognized as a crime. In 48 US states, as well as Washington D.C., and two territories, there are currently laws to protect people against nonconsensual pornography.

However, law enforcement generally struggles to control certain online spheres, especially when it comes to the underbelly of the internet known as the dark web.

International Censorship & Security Journalist
Lauren Mak is an internal censorship and security-focused journalist with a keen eye for how technology affects society. With a background in International Relations and North American Studies, Lauren brings a unique perspective to the VPNOverview team. Lauren has a passion for helping others understand the importance of privacy, freedom, and internet safety and brings that passion to VPNOverview.