Addressing “Revenge Porn” Using a Community Approach

By LB Klein, MSW

[Left Photo Source & Right Photo Source]

“Revenge porn” is a colloquialism for the non-consensual sharing of sexually explicit still or moving images with the intention of causing harm. It is a form of sexual violence commonly used as a tactic by a perpetrator of harassment, intimate partner violence, and stalking to harm the victim. The images may originally have been taken with or without consent, may originally have been consensually shared with a partner, or stolen via hacking of a personal computer or phone. The “revenge porn” is then posted publicly, often on websites, and sometimes with the victim’s contact information, social media sites, or address, so that the victim can be further harassed and humiliated.

There are two commonly proposed solutions for “revenge porn.” The first is the idea that people should just stop taking nude photos of themselves. This solution blames victims and shames people, usually women, for their sexuality and provides no solution for the problem of gender-based violence. The issue with “revenge porn” is the lack of consent in the distribution of the images, not in the existence of the images themselves. The violation is not the existence of bodies or people seeing them but in who decides who can share the images (victims have not participated in the decision or agreed to share images or personal information), the intention for sharing the images (i.e., retaliation or punishment) and the perpetrators’, usually men, effective tactic of leveraging patriarchy to shame their women partners as “revenge.”

The second proposed solution is turning to the criminal legal system. While less victim-blaming, this is often quite ineffective. “Revenge porn” is a psychologically and sexually abusive form of violence that relies on community shaming. While 27 states currently have laws against “revenge porn”  and seventeen more are drafting legislation, “revenge porn”— like many other forms of gender-based violence—is rarely addressed in a timely or fulfilling manner by the criminal legal system, and victims are often left to face increased stigma without recourse. There are people who will never feel safe turning to the police or the courts for help, even if those avenues are improved. Simply making “revenge porn” illegal is but one step toward true prevention and intervention.

Here are four areas outside of introducing new legislation or advocating for risk reduction that can be leveraged to address “revenge porn.”

  1. Increase the capacity of sexual and domestic violence service providers to raise awareness about “revenge porn”.

It is vital that advocates and counselors learn more about the nature and dynamics of “revenge porn” so that they can identify the behavior and possible remedies. As these providers are already working these issues, they can also raise awareness that “revenge porn” is a form of gender-based violence and that its victims deserve support.

  1. Increase public education and awareness without shaming victims.

Due to recent media attention, there is increased awareness that “revenge porn” is happening, but the sensationalism and emphasis on legal intervention does not inspire the public to take responsibility. Educational efforts should focus on what community members can do to aid in prevention by avoiding “revenge porn” websites, shaming websites that host nonconsensually-shared images, and providing support to friends who are targeted through “revenge porn.”

  1. Include discussion of “revenge porn” in bystander intervention programs.

Bystander intervention is a powerful prevention strategy that centers on seeing all members of the community as a part of the solution for ending violence. These programs should include examples of “revenge porn” alongside other forms of interpersonal violence. These programs can emphasize the need for perpetrator accountability and the power of prosocial bystanders to shift the culture that emboldens “revenge porn” perpetrators.

  1. Engage with leaders in the technology field to develop innovative solutions.

While “revenge porn” is simply a form of gender-based violence facilitated using new technology, social media and the idea are relevant points of consideration when uncovering solutions. Technological interventions might make it harder for abusers to disseminate “revenge porn” or might help survivors quickly get images taken down.

“Revenge porn” is a new manifestation of a pervasive endemic public health issue: gender-based violence. It relies on a patriarchal culture in which even well-meaning individuals abdicate responsibility. This leads to the perpetuation of the myth that criminal and civil legal systems work to provide justice and restoration to victims, or that further shaming and limiting the sexualities of women are effective prevention strategies. Because these are false promises, we must consider new solutions that are rooted in communities, address power and privilege, promote education, empower bystanders, and use innovative technological practices. Only through leveraging interdisciplinary expertise and listening to what survivors really want will we see a shift away from a culture that enables “revenge porn” and excuses those who host and post it.


LB_KleinLB Klein, MSW is a Consultant and Lead Trainer for Prevention Innovations Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. In that role, she builds the capacity of institutions of higher education and communities to implement the Bringing in the Bystander Program. She is based in Atlanta, GA and will begin pursuing a doctorate in the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this Fall.

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