#LetsTalkAboutIt: Revenge Porn

#LetsTalkAboutIt: Revenge Porn

#LetsTalkAboutIt then: revenge porn. It’s such a bitter, ludicrous concept that uttering the term in conversation could elicit a nervous giggle. In a way, it is so maliciously misogynistic that one has to ridicule the idea. Do people really do that? Leak private, sexual images – shared in confidence – to the masses in order to avenge the woes of a break-up? Revenge porn is sadly real. It is an idea presumably spawned in an angry pit of loneliness under dim laptop light, an idea that has gained momentum in a way only possible in the digital age. The rate at which we share, upload and absorb information and imagery means that the most hate-fuelled impulse – to expose someone, to avenge bruised pride – is easy as pie.

In February, after a reported 149 allegations between January 1st, 2012 and July 1st 2014 (with, no doubt, copious numbers of unreported cases), the legal system finally acknowledged the ‘trend’ of revenge porn as a fully fledged crime. As promised, it is now a criminal offence in England and Wales to leak intimate sexual images or videos onto said revenge porn sites. But how many of us would be aware of this, and how many victims actually speak out? After all, the streaming of music, film and television is illegal. Free downloads are illegal, but in the cloudy anonymity of the internet, and with an ever-growing community of hackers/ coders/aficionados staying ahead of the game, there are always loopholes when evading the law.  

It’s a frustrating and infuriating reality, echoing archaic, conservative attitudes towards female sexuality that we are repeatedly assured are behind us in 2015. Notorious site IsAnyBodyUp is just one of many which offer nudity on a plate, ripping away consent and allowing embittered trolls, even the average Joe, to violate and defile victims. A culture of playing dumb seems to purvey; it’s difficult for some to pinpoint a victim within the murky RP debate, with a common consensus agreeing that if one is willing to send intimate images, then one must accept the consequences. As if images are sewn ‘into the ether’, ownership dissolves into ‘The Cloud’, remaining online long after they have been deleted, rendering them collectively owned in a warped free-market.

Let’s use this as an opportunity to take stock on this byproduct of sexuality in the digital age. It is empowering to express your sexuality and share it with another. But how far does trust stretch in the limitless abyss of the web – and who can help you when the shit hits the fan?

Though revenge porn is not confined to female victims, the pattern of misogynistic cruelty is hard to ignore. There is a reductionist tendency to victim-blame, highlighted in a recent (now removed) Facebook post by the Australian news Channel 7: “What’s it going to take for women to get the message about taking and sending nude photos?” Hold the phone, in a non-consensual leak of private media, how is the victim to blame? The fact that women are still being shamed for simply expressing sexuality and body confidence is frankly exhausting. When will we learn? With smartphones as a medium of exploration and education, why wouldn’t we want to explore our bodies using them? Is the implication that simply by taking the photo, you have commenced your own undoing? “Consent is everything” was the defining message of writer and activist Clementine Ford’s retaliation. By posting a revealing selfie (complete with the hashtag ‘#fuckyousunrise’), Ford reclaimed the nude. Blunt and simply put, that is the crux of the debate: we can do as we please with our bodies, but consent is key.

It is a contradictory climate, one which has sparked waves of response, from creatives, writers, bloggers, and many more. How are we supposed to feel when the stratospherically popular platform Instagram removes images of nipples, pubic hair, even an elbow crease. Double standards on such platforms offer mixed signals. What are audiences supposed to make of it when, in 2015, the naked female body is censored when shared in a consensual, even artistic context, but is shamed and ridiculed when it has been leaked without permission?   

New weapons of torture serve to twist the knife: ‘like’ buttons, the ‘seen’ signal, all of which quantify and validate. In the insidious context of RP, comments and harassment can have a crushing impact on personal confidence. The results can be damaging and long lasting. Yet, a crop of creative voices is harnessing online tools – Tumblr, Instagram, various forms of social media – to ensure a loud outcry. Cunt Today, the blog formerly ran by artist Phoebe Collings-James, kept a close eye on the development of revenge porn, repeatedly posting to its staunch feminist audience, as well as  i-D magazine calling out and exposing every vengeful partaker until brought to justice.

If anything, creative minds should take heed and hurry the movement, alongside campaigns such as the self-explanatory ‘End Revenge Porn’ initiative.  Defiant actions, like Ford’s, re-appropriate the theft of power victim’s face when intimate moral codes are breached. Take Revenge Porn seriously. Raise awareness through social media, art, photography. Keep reporting it to the Police, because this is the only way to carve distinct moral lines in the muddled mass of the internet. Let’s just keep talking about it.

Written by Rosie Atkin,

Features Contributor

Image C/O Mashables.com

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