Revenge Porn: Why Are We Still Victim Blaming?

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A 2014 report by Cosmopolitan showed that 89% of millennial women have sent nude photos, most often to current love interests. The figures seem to be just as high for men. Although worryingly, figures of revenge porn against women are much higher than against men. Cyber revenge porn was only specifically illegalised in April 2015, however, Hampshire Police reported 208 cases in the last two years, of which 80% were against women. Shockingly, only 4 of those cases were taken to trial. What then, is the problem? Is an attitude of “victim blaming” still affecting how we approach revenge porn?

Revenge porn is the posting of nude, or explicit, images of someone without their permission with the intention of causing them distress. This could be by sharing these pictures publicly online, via social media, or by sharing them amongst friends through messenger services. The problem is that the prevailing view seems to be blaming the victim. They sent the photos originally – surely they knew this could happen?

Yet this claim is not only logically flawed, but ignorant. If someone steals my car, I’m not blamed for owning a car. I’m not told that if I didn’t want my car to get stolen, I should walk more often. Instead, I’m treated as what I am: the victim. Victim, by definition, implies harm has been done against you. You are not to blame. But as soon as it comes to revenge porn, suddenly this basic reality seems to be entirely forgotten. Instead, the victim “brought it upon themselves” and should accept the blame for what happened. But unless you left your car unlocked, with the keys in the ignition, no one would ever blame you for its theft. So what’s the difference?

Perhaps conservative attitudes towards female sexuality are to blame? If a woman’s photos are shared online, then she is branded a “slut” for sending those pictures initially. But these women never shared the photos online; she has merely shared them with someone she trusts, for only them to see. How is this any different to a partner seeing the other naked during sex, given that the intention is for that nakedness to remain between the two of them? It seems like society is holding on to the Victorian ‘angel in the house’ image of women, and denying them the most basic sexual freedoms.

Another issue may be misunderstandings about what the crime actually amounts to, and this was part of the reason why the law never officially covered it until 2015. Of course, revenge is not illegal and neither is pornography. So where is the crime? It comes as a form of sexual and personal harassment. Sexual harassment is not only about the verbal or physical harassment of someone sexually, but behaviour that “is either meant to, or has the effect of: violating your dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment”. The focus here is that revenge porn is meant to intimidate and degrade someone by violating their dignity. This violation of dignity is the factor not otherwise present in ordinary revenge. Therefore, this is not revenge in its normal form. It is a criminal action.

Of course, some cases of revenge porn are trickier. If someone sends a nude photo to a person they’ve never met on a dating app, but they get into an argument and the picture is shared to spite them, some people might think the victim is to blame. Why share nude pictures with strangers? It’s a rather foreseeable conclusion that they could be shared publically. “Foreseeable” is the key word here: you have no reason to trust the stranger like you would a partner. Sending a nude photo in this situation is just reckless. To backtrack to the car analogy, this is like leaving the car unlocked with a ‘steal-me’ sign. In this instance, the victim may be more to blame. There are no answers here, the aim of this article is to explore the issues and allow you to reach your own conclusions. But one remark is important: if it is correct to place some blame on the victim in one case, that should not extrapolate into other cases. These kind of situations are very specific. Sending a nude ought not to be seen itself as a form of reckless behaviour, it can enrich a relationship. Part of the problem is that people have taken one bad case, and taken that to assume blame on the victim in all cases, which is simply untrue.

Revenge porn is a topic that needs to be addressed at school. When nude photos are shared, as they often can be, around schoolchildren the standard approach is to see it as bullying. But it’s more than that. This isn’t a few harsh words or snide remarks. This is exposing one of the most personal things about a person: their body. Something that we ought to have control over. If you opt to go into porn, then you have chosen that extended viewing. But revenge porn strips you of that choice. We should be more careful about the messages being relayed to children about the nature of revenge pornography. All this needs to be corrected. But for the time being we need to take a good look at our attitudes towards revenge porn and those that get caught in its tangled web.

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I'm a third-year Philosophy and History student whose interests (outside my love for Tudor history) pertain to issues on equality, sex and moral ethics and education. I'm also Philosophy Academic President 2016-17. @russb005

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