Tuesday 18 June 2019

Don’t become a target for ‘revenge porn’

Jennifer Lawrence
Jennifer Lawrence

Gabrielle Monaghan

Last year will be remembered by Hollywood watchers for the biggest hacking in history of female celebrities, with nude photos of hundreds of stars, including Jennifer Lawrence and Kirsten Dunst, stolen from their private accounts and published online.

But women don't have to be famous to attract the attention of men who like to sexually humiliate them on the web. One of their most insidious methods is revenge porn, where they post explicit images or videos on social networking sites, internet forums or specific revenge porn websites without the person's consent.

The perpetrators are typically vengeful ex-boyfriends, former husbands or casual sexual partners, according to Fergal Crehan, a Dublin-based barrister who specialises in privacy and data protection. He set up The Hit Team consultancy in January to help clients discreetly remove this material from the internet. In Crehan's experience, it is always women who are targeted for this type kind of sexual shaming.

"There is definitely a misogynistic element to revenge porn, as it's something that happens to women rather than men," he said. "This is because there is more shame associated with public sexual imagery of a woman than there is with a man's imagery."

If these intimate images or videos are linked to the victim, the material will show up whenever anyone carries out a Google search, causing lasting damage to the victims' personal lives and job prospects.

Crehan, for instance, had a female client involved in a "messy divorce" and a dispute over ownership of a property with her estranged husband. The man threatened to distribute a sexual video of her online unless she agreed to a deal over the property.

Another woman sought Crehan's legal advice after realising her search for a job was proving unsuccessful because a man she had been dating had posted a video of her on the internet.

"Someone said she should try Googling herself," he said.

"When she did, a private video she had made five years previously with her boyfriend of the time showed up on three pages of Google results. He had posted it out of spite.

"She came to me and we were able to send letters to him to explain the serious legal consequences of his actions, but that we were prepared not to pursue it if he was prepared to take video down. Very often, at the first suggestion of legal action, people take down these images or videos."

Like celebrities, mere mortals can tackle such violations of privacy, because the internet is not the Wild West that many assume it to be, Crehan says. For example, The Hit Team can completely expunge photos and videos from search engines, social networking sites and adult sites. Ireland is home to the European headquarters of Google, Facebook and Twitter, which are answerable to Irish law, and The Hit Team uses existing privacy and data protection laws to compel companies and harassers to remove damaging content.

The tide is also changing in favour of victims. Facebook, Twitter and Reddit have explicitly banned revenge porn; some American states have made it a criminal offence; and perpetrators in the UK will face prison sentences of up to two years under new proposed measures.

Celebrities are taking the lead on protecting the privacy of their images by taking photos using the good old-fashioned Polaroid camera, as well as low-tech clam-shell and flip phones, which can't deposit their whole life into cyberspace.

One of the most common reactions to tales of revenge porn is this: if you don't want your naked photos leaked, don't take any in the first place.

But, to quote Crehan, "there's no point in telling that to people for whom it's too late".

Irish Independent

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