A New Type of Sexual Abuse: Revenge Porn, Leaked Nudes and Shaming in the Digital Age

July 19, 2017

 

In the past weeks, the internet has been abuzz with the news that Rob Kardashian may face criminal charges for sharing sexually explicit photographs of his ex, Blac Chyna, via social media.  If you are like many Americans, you don’t follow the exploits of the Kardashian family — but you likely have some familiarity with the terms “revenge porn,” sexting or online bullying.  In 2017, this type of harassment or abuse is becoming all too common — and it is has the potential to have a major impact on youth and adults alike.

 

While it may seem outrageous to some, taking nude or intimate photographs or videos has become fairly common for teens and adults of all ages. Whether you agree with the practice or not, it is something that happens — and because these pictures and videos exist, it creates a whole new set of potential problems, and a new way for abusers to harm their victims.  Typically, these images are taken with an understanding that they will be kept private.  But whenever something goes wrong in a relationship — or when an abuser wants to control his or her victim — those images may be shared.  They could be posted online, sent via email or text, or shared in any number of other ways.  The goal is often to embarrass, humiliate or shame the victim.  After all, the picture or video was taken at an incredibly vulnerable moment — and it has now been shared with other people or with the world at large.  

 

We recently shared an article that made the point that calling this type of behavior “revenge porn” trivializes what is truly a heinous crime.   Instead, it should be called image-based sexual abuse.  When you think about it, this makes sense.  It isn’t “porn,” because the person did not consent to having her or his image shared in that manner.  And it isn’t about revenge, but IS about degradation and control. An abuser now has the power to humiliate a person  thoroughly and completely with just the click of a button.  And because the internet is forever, the shaming is not momentary, but has the potential to last for weeks, months or even years.  If an angry ex sends a nude picture via text to one person, or uploads an image to the internet, it cannot be controlled.  The victim may be traumatized for years.  38 states have criminalized this type of “nonconsensual photography.”

 

The digital age has brought many advances, and given us greater knowledge and freedom than ever before.  But at the same time, it has empowered abusers in new and twisted ways, allowing them to strip the dignity of their victims by sharing intimate images, stealing pictures and videos and harassing them via the internet and other methods.

 

It may be tempting to blame the victims in these situations for creating the very images that are then used to degrade them.  But it is not the victim’s fault that their abuser has committed a crime, any more than it would be a person’s fault if they purchased an expensive electronic that a thief then stole from their house.  Sharing intimate images without the consent of the person in the photo or video is a crime in most states — and it simply does not matter that the person may have agreed to make the image in the first place.

 

Instead, we must focus on supporting victims, who are likely experiencing a high degree of trauma in the aftermath of being abused in this manner. You can learn more on our website about how to help a friend who has suffered trauma.  Anyone who has experienced this type of abuse can also reach out to Blackburn Center for support.  We offer a range of services for victims of all types of violence and crime, including for anyone who has been a victim of image-based sexual abuse.  You can reach us at 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122 to speak to someone anytime.

 

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