BY BRIANNA STEWART

No crime is victimless, and revenge pornography is no exception. In the instance where a person’s nude images are posted online without their consent, only one person is at fault, and it is not the person who features in the photograph. Often, the response to a nude image leak is that the (predominantly female) victims should not have taken the photos in the first place, and that this is the risk they take in doing so. This notion is not only harmful for the victims of revenge pornography, it demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of the nature of communication in the digital age.

Revenge pornography is a spiteful act, often taken by, but not limited to, jealous ex-boyfriends upset by the end of a relationship. Websites dedicated to the modern phenomenon reveal more about the twisted lengths some people will go to in order to satisfy their voyeuristically perverted sex drives than it does about the promiscuity of their ex-girlfriends. Vulgar comments posted beneath web listings of girls, some as young as 16, refer to the images and videos as “wins”, objectifying the women even more than they already have been. Commenters often request to trade “wins”, treating the victims of revenge porn as a form of currency to be bartered.

Not only does the posting of a person’s private images breach their trust, it is also a blatant invasion of their privacy. Many victims of revenge pornography have shared their stories online, after law enforcement in their country failed to find the jurisdiction to act. Web content depicting their nude bodies is still available, some viewed more than a million times, and often recorded without the victims’ knowledge. One such woman, Nikki Rettelle, revealed to CNN that she discovered her boyfriend at the time was filming her when she noticed an LED light shining from a pen holder. This light exposed a secret camera, one of many planted in both his house and hers. The footage obtained on these cameras, of Nikki changing, as well as simply going about her daily business, was posted online along with personal details including her full name, birthday, phone numbers and addresses. This is information that frequent users of revenge pornography sites use to filter the content they wish to see – women of a certain age, location and physical description.

Women in the same situation as Nikki would not be seen as anything other than a victim, so why does the perception change when a woman initially agrees to be photographed? Just because she agrees to take the photo, and shares it with another person, does not mean she consents to said image being posted on an international forum full of people she does not know, there for one purpose only – to view exposed and oblivious women in a sexually explicit context. One woman does not deserve to be met with sympathy while the other is told by law enforcement, “Next time don’t be identifiable if you choose to do something like this.” Both women have had their trust broken and their privacy invaded, so should be perceived equally sympathetically by society.

It is not outside the norm for nude images to be exchanged between sexual partners or members of a relationship. If they answered honestly, most teenagers above the age of 16 would admit to taking naked photographs of themselves, and most of these people would have then sent the images on to friends or significant others. Although this may be appalling to the generations for whom social media and photo sharing software were not part of daily life, the exchange of nude images has simply become part of the modern courting process. Of course, not everyone chooses nor is required to partake in this, however, those who do should not be looked down upon for their decision.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act was developed in 2015 and prohibits the sending of messages and posting of material online that deliberately causes somebody serious emotional stress. Netsafe explains, “Even if an image [or] video was shared with another individual, this does not mean that person has consent to share it with others under the law.” If the law, which is rigid by nature, has adapted to protect the victims of revenge pornography, public perception should have done the same.

Our digital society is constantly changing, and so are our laws and behaviours. The way we perceive women who choose to photograph themselves in the nude is lagging behind and this must change. It is not an offence to take and share a nude image, so those who do should not be condemned by society for their actions. Consent to view an image does not equal consent to share the image and everyone whose naked body has appeared online without their consent, is a victim of revenge pornography. No exceptions.

This story was submitted for The Common Room, a place for all young people to share their views. Got something to say? Everyone’s welcome – click here to contribute!

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