That’s men: The deep obscenity of ‘revenge images’
It has always been possible to destroy the reputation of a girl or woman by putting about the word that she is a slut, an opinion all too quickly passed on by others, both male and female. Today it goes further: we have pictures and videos as well to share on smartphones and on the internet. In itself the effect of this exposure on the women concerned is devastating. Imagine how much worse it is, then, when the picture is one taken by her or by someone she loved or trusted. Welcome to the world of revenge porn.
Those who post sexy images or videos on the internet of once-intimate partners take a form of revenge that is not unlike leaving them with a sexually transmitted disease: it follows them and can disrupt the future very seriously.
“Back in 2009 my ex-boyfriend did the unthinkable after I broke up with him,” writes Dr Holly Jacobs on her website End Revenge Porn. “He started posting explicit pictures and a video of me all over the internet along with my full name, email address, job title, and specific details of where I worked and how far along I was in my PhD program. For three years damage control was a full-time job. I hired a lawyer to send him a letter. I begged and pleaded with three different police stations to file charges against him. I went to the FBI, and I hired an internet specialist to help me take down the material. Ultimately, those avenues were dead ends . . .”
Eventually she set up the End Revenge Porn website to campaign for changes in the law. At least two US states have now passed legislation to outlaw revenge porn, though it is by no means clear how effective the law can be in the internet era. The campaign for an end to revenge porn has been taken up by Scottish Women’s Aid.
In considering revenge porn, the question of blame is important. It’s too easy to say the female sent these pictures to her boyfriend so she’s fair game when it comes to having those images proliferated across the web (and it’s almost always a case of pictures of women being distributed by men).
But why should people have their lives damaged for engaging in a silly act which seemed like a good idea at the time? And shouldn’t the primary blame for posting the images be on the man who does the posting? And isn’t it a rotten, rotten thing to do?
As Scottish Women’s Aid puts it: “You did nothing wrong having private moments with a partner. They are wrong for sharing those moments with anyone else without your consent.”
It might be argued that if the picture was taken with consent, then the woman has no real complaint if it ends up all over the internet. But in revenge porn the distribution of the image is not consensual: it is a violation. Revenge porn is a wretched betrayal of another person, usually a woman, and is well worth considering whenever privacy laws are under discussion.
Dr Holly Jacobs’ website is at www.endrevengeporn.org. The Scottish campaign’s website is at stoprevengepornscotland.wordpress.com
Addendum: The humiliation of women by exposing their nakedness has been in the human psyche for a long time. I read in the current issue of the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society that during the 1641 rebellion female Protestants were humiliated by being stripped naked in public and left that way. “These women would never want to live in the area again after the shame of being stripped,” writes author Patrick Guinness. “It was a sign to those in the next village on the road to Dublin that this woman was not to be helped.”
The rebellion occurred during an exceptionally cold winter and some women froze to death. Because the death was from cold, it could be put down to the will of God. That’s another reprehensible thing about the human psyche: the justification, by any means, of vile acts.
Padraig O’Morain (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. @PadraigOMorain