"I loved her and trusted her, and I just felt helpless."
Sharing nude images with someone is an act of trust and confidence.
However, when relationships break down, some people often find themselves victims of revenge porn.
Young Desi men and women facing this problem can feel terrified of being disgraced by their family and community.
Despite there being laws to protect these victims, many are often shamed or left to feel powerless.
This highlights the need for more protection and support for the victims of this disturbing crime.
What is Revenge Porn?
In an ideal world, young people would be able to explore their sexuality safely, without fearing that their trust will be abused.
Revenge porn is the sharing of private materials of another person without their consent.
The purpose of this might be to cause embarrassment, pain or distress to the victim.
Also, the images sometimes come with personal information about the victim, such as:
- Full name
- Social media links
- Intimate sexual details
For some, this act of betrayal might seem petty or even humorous. However, the effects of revenge porn are long term and can be devastating.
Some might assume this crime is uncommon, and this can be true, since sending nude images are arguably a part of modern dating.
For example, young Desi men and women, with traditional families, might not be able to see their partner frequently and have to be more intimate through their phones.
In fact, 47% of young women, and 27% of men have sent intimate or sexual images, according to a 2020 report by Refuge.
Unfortunately, this has also caused a dramatic rise in blackmail and revenge porn.
Why Does Revenge Porn Happen?
In every relationship, there must be trust and respect. Sadly, in some cases, an individual breaks this.
It might be hard to understand why someone would be so cruel and abuse this trust.
However, this vindictive and aggressive act can happen after a breakup that did not end well.
Some may choose to use any explicit images that they have of their ex-partner against them as a means of ‘revenge’.
It can be a traumatic experience for the victim, as it was not consented to and can make them feel humiliated, violated and helpless.
For a young Desi person, the consequences can be far worse since some Desi people must date in secret.
Therefore the thought of what parents and community members will say or even do can be terrifying.
This violation of trust can leave a scar. It can negatively impact the victim psychologically and jeopardise future relationships.
Another reason why someone might share revenge porn is for blackmail, which can be for money or even sexual acts.
Desi people might feel like they have no choice. They listen to what the assailant is telling them to do out of fear of what the Desi community will do if they were to find out.
What are the Laws to Protect Victims?
Revenge porn is a crime, and there are laws to protect victims of this cyber-attack.
Disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress became an offence in 2015.
Sending explicit or nude images of this kind, depending on the circumstances, can be an offence under the Communications Act 2003 or the Malicious Communications Act 1988.
If repeated, it can also amount to an offence of harassment under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
Alongside this, blackmail is also a criminal offence under section 21(1) of the Theft Act 1968 and is punishable by a maximum of 14 years in prison.
However, this depends on the amount of money demanded and the psychological harm intended or done to the victim.
On March 2nd, 2021, there were changes made to the law where there will now be consequences for those even threatening to share intimate images.
Those found guilty of the crime could face a sentence of up to two years in prison.
The government said these laws also include threats to disclose intimate images to cause distress.
This move would seek to criminalise those who threaten to leak sex tapes or other explicit content of their partners.
These new laws aim to discourage those from thinking that sharing explicit or nude images is fun or acceptable and the government wants to encourage victims to report the crime to the police.
Victim Shaming in the Desi Community
Despite there being laws to protect the victims of revenge porn, it has not stopped victim shaming.
Young Desi people often feel pressured into providing explanations for why they sent the photos in the first place, thus receiving an immense amount of backlash in the process.
Arguably, the Desi community does not focus on why the criminal leaked these private images, despite the actions being degrading and illegal.
Statements like “she shouldn’t have sent nudes, what did she expect?” become the pattern.
This genre of hate comments thrive on social media and indicates that victims should bear all of the responsibility.
This harassment and shaming can make it difficult for a victim of revenge porn to feel safe to seek assistance from police, lawyers and therapists.
It can be a scary process, as the victim can feel alone and mentally isolated.
Alongside confiding in the police, the potential fear of being shamed by the family can cause a victim to suffer in silence.
In most cases, dating, relationships and sex are all taboo topics in a Desi household.
Some Desi parents often live blissfully ignorant hoping that their children are not sexually active.
There is rarely an open conversation with compassion and acceptance.
Perhaps if there were non-judgmental discussions about sex between young Desi people and their parents, more would understand the potential risks of sending nude images.
Unfortunately, this is not the reality for many young Desi people.
Hence why Desi victims of revenge porn suffer in silence, unaware of who can help them.
They might feel like they cannot trust anyone, as the police, teachers, lawyers will never understand the cultural shame this experience will have on the victim and not the criminal.
Aaron was only 17 when his ex-partner leaked his nude images. He states:
“I was with my ex-girlfriend for two years.
“We were in love. I broke up with her because it was a long-distance relationship and I was just unhappy. I didn’t see us getting married.”
After he ended the relationship, he noticed his ex-girlfriend blocked him on social media and began spreading rumours about him.
Aaron said despite their breakup, he never worried about her sharing his images, as he said he would never do that to her:
“We did send pictures. She only sent me hers on Snapchat, which meant they disappear.
“But I would send them to her on messenger because, at the time, I didn’t care.”
He went on to say how he found out his images leaked online:
“We had a few mutual friends and one of my mates *Tanya, was in a group chat with her.
“She told me that my ex was mad. So she sent her friends pictures of me.
“I think she did it to get back at me for breaking up with her. I was so angry because I knew her girl mates would share it with their boyfriends and so on.”
Students at Aaron’s secondary school would laugh and whisper around him.
He goes on to say:
“Now that I’ve left school, no one says anything to me, and it’s because we’re all adults now.
“I loved her and trusted her, and I just felt helpless.
“It made me angry because if I did that to her I would be a villain and would probably be in jail.
“But because I’m a guy, people expected me to get over it and not be angry.”
Aaron believes that no one took his case serious because he was a man, so he tried his best to forget what happened.
What More Can Be Done?
DESIblitz sat down with Sophie Mortimer, manager of the Revenge Porn Helpline, and Folami Prehaye, founder of Victims of Image Crime (VOIC).
They explained what services they provide for victims of leaked nude images and what more should happen to support those who feel helpless and alone.
Revenge Porn Helpline
When asking Sophie what should someone do if they see their private images online, she said:
“First, please don’t panic. You are not alone, and there are services that can help you.
“If you can, please confide in someone you trust as this is an extremely violating thing to experience, and no one should be on their own with it.”
Revenge Porn Helpline offers victims advice on the law, guiding them on reporting to the police and what evidence it might be helpful to provide.
They can also help people remove their intimate content that is online.
DESIblitz asked Sophie what should a young person do if they come from a more conservative family and are scared to tell their parents, she said:
“Sadly, we know that people from some more conservative communities face additional pressures when dealing with the sharing of intimate images.
“We will do our best to remove the content in these cases, and if we are unable to help, we can refer to our sister service, Report Harmful Content, who can sometimes help further.
Later, Sophie elaborated on if she thinks the government can do more to protect victims, stating:
“The law, as it stands on intimate image abuse, is not fit for purpose.
“We are thankful that the government has recognised this and tasked the Law Commission to review the law, which is ongoing.
“We also hope that the government looks to improve funding for services such as ours which are so clearly needed.
“Case numbers have risen dramatically in the last year, clearly showing the need for our work.”
With social media growing rapidly, this shows the urgent need for government support in these fragile areas.
Folami Prehaye created VOIC after being a victim of image-based sexual abuse in 2014.
She courageously built this platform to create a safe space for people who have had similar experiences without feeling judged.
They can share their stories anonymously and are provided with helpful resources.
Falomi started by saying why she does not like the term “revenge porn”:
“The phrase is very victim-blaming and a few of us are campaigning to change.”
She states it is a stressful period for a victim of this crime:
“In my case, I pretty much hid away from people.
“You blame yourself, and you believe everybody knows about it, and there is so much anxiety that goes with any abuse.
“You will feel alone, intimidated, and it’s not a nice place to be in, and it can tear families apart.”
Folami wants people to understand that this crime can happen to anyone.
For more traditional communities, she thinks it is vital they remain compassionate and non-judgemental:
“This can happen in different community settings. I’ve spoken to people in the Asian community, the black community.
“Within those communities, it’s about having conversations. Especially for the older members, because the times have changed.”
Similarly to the Revenge Porn Helpline, Folami is happy the government are making changes to the current revenge porn laws:
“The Law Commission is doing a consultation that finishes in May. I am involved in phase one and two of that consultation.
However, Folami believes the law and the proceedings should be more culturally sensitive and look into mental health. She states:
“Cultural awareness needs to come into place. The current revenge porn law has so many loopholes. It’s not right.
“For example, if there’s a case where it happens to someone of a different community. Then have someone there from the community or an interpreter if they need one.
“We all need support in the correct way.”
Although there are signs of government progress, communities need to talk and spread awareness just as much in order to help future generations.
Watch our exclusive interview with VOIC:
Steps to Take Once the Images are Leaked
The Cyber Helpline has created an in-depth guide on the initial steps to take for victims of this vicious attack.
Understandably, the reaction to seeing the leaked images would cause distress, embarrassment and anger.
However, there are things that a person can do to ensure the perpetrator will be held accountable.
Keep a copy of the Evidence
Despite there being an urge to take remove these nude images immediately, it is necessary to keep evidence by taking screenshots, videos etc.
The Cyber Helpline recommends making a timeline of events.
For example, if there were any conversations with the criminal before the leaked images, this evidence will help the criminal case progress.
Report it to the Police
Revenge porn is a crime. It is abuse, and those who believe this is acceptable behaviour should be held accountable.
The initial report to the police can be daunting but is a vital step in initiating justice.
Don’t Engage With the Suspect
It is understandable if people want to contact the suspect in order to gather statements, other evidence etc.
However, this could make matters worse and the suspect could delete the images and evidence or even leak more.
Contact the Website
Most social media sites have a report button and images are deleted if they obtain any nudity.
If this approach is not quick enough, contact the site through its customer service helpline.
Talk to Someone
For a young Desi person, the idea of telling someone they have been violated can be terrifying. They might be scared of how their family and friends will react.
Will they be mocked or ignored?
Therefore, people can seek the needed support from an external helpline or mental health professional.
After suffering such abuse, victims of nude images need more love, protection and support, not only from professionals but from the wider community.