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What to Do If You're a Victim of Revenge Porn

What to Do If You're a Victim of Revenge Porn

Allure
By EJ Dickson
January 4, 2019

Now that the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements are mainstream, there’s an ongoing cultural discussion about sex and consent. But there’s been less conversation about the specific issue of how to support survivors of revenge porn (also known as nonconsensual porn), the act of posting nude or sexually explicit photos and videos of a person on the Internet without their permission.

Revenge porn is a relatively new phenomenon, so it hasn’t been the subject of much research. But it appears to be shockingly common: A 2017 Australian survey suggests that one in five people has had sexually explicit or nude photos and images distributed without their consent. It’s often, though not always, committed by a current or former partner, and it is often part of a larger pattern of abuse, says Eri Kim, senior clinical director of the anti-trafficking program, community programs, and hotlines at Safe Horizon.

With the emergence of social media, we’ve seen how technology is an integral part of sexual violence and partner violence, and how it is used to stalk and harass [victims],” Kim explains. “Post-#MeToo, we’ve seen much more awareness of the dynamics of sexual violence and how common it is.”

Currently, revenge porn is illegal in 37 states and Washington, D.C. Nonetheless, finding nonconsensual photos of yourself online and the process of trying to scrub them from the Internet can be devastating. Allure spoke with experts and therapists who specialize in sexual trauma to find out how to cope with finding your sexually explicit content online without your permission — and how to fight back.

Why is revenge porn psychologically damaging?

Sharing nude photos with a partner (or partners) is extremely common: A study from the security software firm McAfee found that nearly 49 percent of people have sent a sexually charged photo, text, or video at some point in their lives. But even though many people sext, it’s a highly intimate act that requires establishing a certain level of trust.

Having that trust violated can be crushing. “When we think about any form of victimization that has occurred, we often think about how choice is being taken away,” says Kim. Revenge porn “is a violation of not just your privacy, but your sense of dignity, in a way. There’s a lack of choice, a lack of control. You don’t know how far it goes, and who has seen it.”

We know less about the psychological impact of revenge porn than we do about other forms of sexual trauma. “Because revenge porn is a relatively new phenomenon, its exact effects on mental health are not yet fully understood,” says Emily Dworkin, a research fellow at the University of Washington School of Medicine, who studies the psychological effects of trauma.

But a survey of 1,600 revenge porn survivors from the nonprofit End Revenge Porn found that 51 percent of survivors reported experiencing suicidal thoughts. An additional small-scale preliminary study of 18 revenge porn survivors found that they were more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What should you do if your nude photos and videos have been shared without your consent?

First, take a deep breath, and then remind yourself of two things: You are not alone, and you have options.

There are many online organizations that provide support for revenge porn survivors, such as the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), which provides resources such as attorney referrals, a 24-hour crisis hotline, and a guide to how to remove your photos from the Internet.

For instance, if you were to discover your images on a large social media platform like Instagram, Reddit, or Facebook, or on a large pornography website like Pornhub or XHamster, you can report the photos on the grounds that they violate user guidelines. CCRI offers an extremely detailed guide on how to flag content for removal from social media, and Pornhub has a specific content removal portal for these purposes.

Another resource is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act website, which can help you take down your images. There are also companies that will perform this service for a fee, but Kim recommends vetting them carefully before doing any hiring.

You can also hire an attorney or take the matter to law enforcement, but Kim says that you should approach the latter option strategically. “The conversation we would have [with survivors] is, ‘If your ex knew you went to the police, are there more pictures or images? What else might they do?’” She also suggests talking through what makes the most sense strategically and what you know about the person in possession of your photos or videos.

Either way, in the event that you choose to take legal action, our experts say you should keep records of all evidence that your images and videos were posted without your consent. Take screengrabs of all websites where you have found your content and all of your takedown requests.

How can survivors cope with the psychological effects of revenge porn?

The process of trying to remove your nonconsensual photos and videos from the Internet can be traumatizing in and of itself. “There’s a lot of detail going into figuring out how to remove these images,” says Kim. “At a time of distress, it’s a real burden [for a survivor] to have to do all this research.”

That’s why it’s important to develop strong coping skills to deal with the aftermath. Kim suggests survivors consider counseling by contacting a crisis helpline or speaking to a therapist, preferably one who specializes in sexual trauma. If you’d like help finding a therapist, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) offers a comprehensive guide to finding one who may be a good fit for you.

Having your private videos and images made public without your consent may lead you to “develop upsetting beliefs that may not be 100 percent true, like that it was your fault or that nobody else can ever be trusted,” says Dworkin.

If you find that you’re blaming yourself for what has happened, or that your interactions with others are suddenly clouded by mistrust, remember that it is not your fault. Try to take a step back and gain some perspective. “Some people find it useful to write down their belief and consider what they’d tell a friend in a similar situation,” says Dworkin, “or take a step back and consider whether objective evidence supports that belief.”

Try not to focus on things you have no control over, such as who may or may not have seen your images or videos. Such thoughts are not constructive and could send you down an anxiety spiral. Instead, attempt to shift your focus to steps you can take to alleviate the situation, says Kim. “Tell yourself, ‘These are my options and my legal rights and I’m gonna home in on the things I have control over.’ That can help regain a sense of agency and getting control back.”

Above all, be compassionate with yourself. Having your explicit images out there can have negative effects on your life — people have lost jobs and faced harassment as a result — and it takes time to heal from this sort of trauma. Victim-blaming (when the victim is made to feel it’s their fault) and slut-shaming (when folks are stigmatized for behavior that’s deemed sexually promiscuous) can also occur, and it can be hard not to internalize these things. But it’s important to remember that it’s truly not your fault and that even if others have seen your private photos, texts, or videos, the people worth having in your life won’t judge you for them.

Are there any precautions you can take to prevent your nude images, texts, or videos being leaked?

Yes and no. It’s possible to use encrypted apps like Signal to securely send videos and text messages, but it’s worth asking why you feel the need to resort to such extremes, and if you think it’s really worth sending an intimate photo or video to that person.

If you’d like to make yourself less recognizable in the photos you do send, there are small things you can do. Don’t include your face, and make sure that any recognizable tattoos or birthmarks aren’t in the frame.

Ultimately, other than total abstinence, there’s really no 100 percent “safe” method for sexting. Kim says it would be easy to say “don’t do it” but recognizes that advice isn’t realistic. She adds, “If you say, ‘This is how you can prevent it,’ then it’s like it’s your responsibility to safeguard.” The onus isn’t on you to prevent your trust from being violated — the onus is on your partner and no one else.

Having your sexually explicit photos, texts, or videos made public without your consent is not a small thing — it is a major betrayal that can have far-reaching consequences on your mental health. But by no means does it have to determine the path of the rest of your life. As Kim reminded me during our conversation, few people will deny you a job or refuse to go out with you because another person made the choice to violate your privacy, your safety, and your trust. You are much more than this one thing.

Read the original article here.