Saturday 3 December 2016

Revenge porn nightmare: 'I felt I was completely violated'

No Irish law can protect a woman whose ex posted private photos of her on a porn site

Claire Mc Cormack

Published 12/06/2016 | 02:30

Shock: Jane was disgusted to be told that intimate images of herself and a former boyfriend were available to view on a porn website Photo: Gerry Mooney
Shock: Jane was disgusted to be told that intimate images of herself and a former boyfriend were available to view on a porn website Photo: Gerry Mooney

One night last February, out of the blue, Jane* got a call from one of her oldest male friends inviting her for dinner.

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She was delighted - a chance to catch up, exchange the latest gossip and find out how all the old gang were doing. But when she sat down at the table in the Dublin restaurant, she sensed something was wrong.

He said he had something very important to tell her.

Then he took her phone, accessed the web, clicked onto the largest porn website in the world and showed the screen to Jane.

"All I saw was an advert for penis enlargement, but he was like, 'No, look properly.' And then I saw it. There was a photo of my naked body with a video attached and a description saying, '24-year-old female from Ireland who is pretty much up for anything.'"

Her friend said that a mate of his had spotted the photo and video and noticed the unusual and distinctive tattoo in one of the photos. The tattoo, and its placement, is almost as unique as a fingerprint. Her friend knew immediately it was Jane.

Jane was dizzy. She couldn't breathe, couldn't speak.

She waited until she went home to watch the film. She rushed to the toilet and vomited.

"It was a video of me having sex with a man in a very familiar room. It was my former boyfriend, there was no doubt about it, it's his room, in his parents' house.

"But we'd never even discussed recording anything, it had never come up ever, it was never a topic for discussion because you don't know what is going to happen - if you lose the file you don't know what is going to happen with it, that was always in the back of my head," she says.

"My immediate reaction was to throw up, because how do you process that? It was a complete violation of everything."

The profile on the porn website had been active for at least one year. In it, she claims, her ex had been writing messages pretending to be the woman in the video and photographs.

He was replying to comments that people had left on the page: "These were very explicit, vulgar messages and that completely turned my stomach," she says.

"It made me feel disgusting and completely vulnerable. I was terrified, shocked, numb. How could someone I trusted betray me in such a heinous way?" she adds. "I completely broke down that night. I couldn't sleep, the images were racing around my head."

Nearly four months on from learning that she had been the victim of revenge porn, Jane (not her real name) recalls the relationship that actually ended years ago, in 2012. It had seemed like an amicable break-up. There was no histrionics, no shouting.

They sat down, she told him why it wasn't working and how she couldn't be his crutch any longer.

He seemed to accept her decision. They swapped their boxes of memorabilia and that was it, their year-long romance, which had generally been fun and loving, though with some incidents of twisted turbulence, was finally over.

But, she now realises, he had no intention of letting her go that easily.

Revenge is a scary word. But revenge porn, is even more terrifying - the ultimate betrayal of the trust, love and friendship once shared between two people.

They first met a decade ago, as teenagers. Jane, from county Dublin, says he was shy, but with an air of the 'bad boy' about him.

They spent a summer hanging out in the same circle of friends. Then, five years later, after a chance sighting on a train, Jane, then at the end of her teens, sent him a message saying, "Long time, how have you been?"

A relationship blossomed and within two weeks she had met his entire family.

"We spent the majority of our time together in his parents' house. We were constantly together," she said.

But when he turned 21, she says the relationship started to change.

"He began to become more withdrawn, depressed. He hated me seeing my friends, he hated me talking to his brothers, and he thought I'd prefer them over him.

"He deliberately orchestrated things so I would have to spend as much time as possible with him," Jane explains.

"He became quite toxic towards himself, he was quite violent towards himself. We had an argument one day and he threatened to kill himself, he grabbed a knife and ran into the bathroom and I had to break the door down to get him to stop.

"He picked fights with me over silly things all the time, one minute everything was fantastic, the next he was a raging lunatic and I couldn't put up with it anymore," she says.

Jane was studying at college and working part-time. She was extremely stressed about their relationship. She confided in her friends, but not in her family, for fear of burdening them. But when he became physically abusive towards her, that was the final straw.

"He hit me across the face with his elbow once. I had to hide it from my family. It's the 21st century and I wasn't going to put up with that. I said 'You need to get help, I don't deserve this,' so I left," she says.

Days later they met up in a coffee shop to make the split official.

"He said he understood where I was coming from and it was really amicable. I gave him back all his things, he gave me mine and it was fine. It was like a normal break-up."

Against the advice of family and friends, Jane and her ex stayed in touch over the years. The "occasional risqué photo" was sent.

"The photos were consensual, but in a private context between the two of us, they weren't for the whole world to see. Both of us promised to delete the other's," says Jane.

But her ex had other ideas. Those were the naked photos that Jane saw on the biggest porn site in the world when her friend brought her out for dinner.

Towards the end of 2014, Jane and her ex lost touch completely and she began to move on from the "emotionally and mentally toxic relationship".

She got a new job and was finally happy again.

The morning after that life-changing meet-up with a friend in the restaurant last February, Jane told her parents what had happened and they went straight to their local garda station.

"We were assured that they would get him and prosecute the hell out of him. We left full of confidence," says Jane.

The gardai emailed the porn website on Jane's behalf, saying she hadn't given consent for the video or photos. The website claims to be opposed to non-consensual posts and revenge porn.

But then Jane and her family found out that what her ex did is not illegal in Ireland. There is no law in place to protect her - at this point in time, it's not a crime.

Although the site removed everything, the account-holder reposted it again the next day. "They didn't monitor the page or delete the page, he put everything back up and the gardai couldn't do anything. They said it was as far as they could go," she adds.

A few days later, Jane and her family went to her ex-boyfriend's home to confront him.

"He came into the sitting room with a big grin on his face and I said, 'I know what you've done.' He denied it, said, 'I don't know what you're on about'."

"My Dad started talking to him, he can be very intimidating. He said, 'We know you posted photos of Jane on the internet." Dad said that he had spoken to a barrister and that they knew exactly what to do with the likes of him," says Jane.

Her ex completely broke down and started crying. He said he had done it.

"His poor mother started bawling her eyes out to think that her son had done something so horrific. He got his laptop and deleted everything in front of me," she said.

But that's not justice. The originals may be gone, but chances are they've been downloaded, uploaded, shared and reshared all over the internet.

Jane wants to change the law.

"I feel completely betrayed by the justice system. I know I'm not the only one, I can't be. And the fact that there is no law in place to protect people like me or to even consider our protection, it's completely archaic," she says.

"Social media is everywhere. Once something goes out there you can never get it back. Copies of that video and those photos are still floating around in the internet somewhere, waiting for someone to piece them back together again and that terrifies me."

The woman's solicitor, Dermot McNamara, feels that Ireland must now follow the UK's lead in adopting a law that specifically criminalises the sharing of sexually explicit images without consent.

"The issue of revenge porn, like many sectors of cyber crime, is not yet dealt with effectively under Irish law, and currently gardai have limited powers to access data from websites or to prosecute.

"At the moment, the only option for victims is to take a civil case against the perpetrator, but the likelihood of a prosecution is remote," he explains.

"I strongly feel that we must follow the UK and directly address the subject of revenge porn - punishing people who share sexually explicit images without the consent of the person, with the intent of causing them distress."

Mr McNamara confirmed that his client will be seeking damages via a civil action against the person who uploaded the images.

They are also investigating the possibility of issuing proceedings against the website concerned that allowed the images to be re-uploaded after being asked to remove them by gardai.

This week, Jane will be meeting Senator Ged Nash, Labour's spokesperson on equality.

"Most right-thinking people would be appalled at the very idea that an ex-partner would post intimate videos or photos online without any knowledge or consent in order to humiliate and degrade someone's personal dignity and reputation," says Senator Nash.

"The sad reality is that this does happen and it destroys lives."

The Law Reform Commission, at the request of the former government, published an issues paper on 'cyber crime affecting personal safety, privacy and reputation involving cyber bullying' in late 2014.

"This was circulated for consultation in November 2014 and I understand that a report is due to be submitted to the Government this year," adds Mr Nash.

He agrees that serious consideration should be given to following the UK law: "This would send a strong message that Irish society finds the act of revenge porn to be an unacceptable assault on human dignity and personal privacy."

Although Jane accepts that a new law would have no impact on her traumatic experience, she says she is speaking out for the sake of future generations.

"I've got a niece. She is coming into a society surrounded by social media and growing technologies and I don't want this to happen to her, I want her to be protected, to keep her privacy without the fear of the whole world looking at them and judging them.

"I don't want her to face the same empty promises."

*Names have been changed

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