Warning: contains stories about experiences with revenge porn
Revenge porn in digital media
“Right now, I am in twenty chatgroups. Each group problably has more than fifteen tot twenty or maybe thirty thousand members (in The Netherlands alone).” So these chatgroups contain pictures of funny cat videos right? No not quite. Maybe wholesome chatgroups for people who love baking to exchange recipes? Wrong again, these chatgroups are a part of extensive revenge porn networks. These thousands of members exchange nude pictures and videos of girls and women. These images are sorted by name, the city they live in and contain links to social media profiles of the victims. These networks can be found on the app Telegram, on Discord, and on the cloudservice Mega. The documents on Mega are only accessible via invitation granted by uploading ‘original content’, images and videos that are not yet on the internet, so you got a hold of yourself. Dutch tech journalist Daniël Verlaan got into the sercret cloudservice by uploading nude pictures of a seks worker who wanted to help him in his research. What he found was hundreds of files of women and girls, sorted by name and country.
The reason for these chatgroups and networks is simple: distributing private, sexual material of another person without their consent, with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress, also know with the term ‘revenge porn’. Dutch journalist Danny Ghosen got to interview a few men behind and in these networks and questioned their reasoning. One man said: “Jealousy, revenge, she broke my heart, when your heart is broken, you do weird things.” Another said: “To destroy someones life, some people think it is fun.” And: “I am not shaming anyone, what the girl does is shameful, by doing it, she is shaming herself. I am trying to teach them something.” A common notion is that girls and women deserve to be ‘exposed’ just because they made nude pictures or videos, they need to be learned a lesson. One underage girl got filmed without her consent while having sex with a grown man, she got exposed in a Telegram chatgroup because ‘she was easy’ and therefore deserved to be shamed.
Blaming the victims
This leaves a devastating impact on the victims. Not only can revenge porn cause problems in the career and workplace of the victims, despression and suicidal thoughts are common. Threats by third parties and their former partners also pose a big problem. A man interviewed by Danny Ghosen said a girl just got exposed in one of the group chats, along with her phone number and social media links, “She is definitely being bombarded with calls right now.” One woman said she got threatend on multiple occassions after being exposed in a Telegram chatgroup with more than seventy thousand (Dutch) members: “He said that if he ever runs into me on the street, he will beat me up because I deserve it.” In januari of 2021 a thirteen year old girl even ended her own life after her mother found out explicit images of her were being distributed via social media. Some girls get abused by their parents after being exposed because of their ‘shameful’ behavior.
The notion that a victim is the cause of their own harm is called ‘victim blaming’. This is a way for indivuals to morally distance themselves from actions not in harmony with their own standards or values. Sometimes it is easier to call someone dumb or naive, than to understand that the world can be unfair and unjust. The problem with victim blaming is that it actually keeps the idea alive that in these situations, women deserve to get punished because they do not deserve respect after making a private picture or video. By putting any form of blame on the victim, the disapproval of the perpetrator is (partially) removed. This way, perpetrators do not feel like they are doing something wrong, and continue their dispicable behavior.
Why we should go against victim blaming
My point is that it is not shameful for anyone to take private pictures or videos of themselves. You do not deserve to be punished for expressing your sexuality. Someone taking private pictures or videos of you without your consent is not shameful either, you are a victim of a crime at that point. It is illegal to distribute private pictures without consent, it is illegal to distribute someone’s private information on the internet (doxxing), and ofcourse it is illegal to break into someone’s phone, laptop or Cloud and steal private pictures. Victims do not deserve to be punished for someone else’s illegal actions. I want to encourage everyone to go against victim blaiming to let the perpetrators lose some of their power. The sheer size of people who victim blame, knowlingly or else, is enormous in The Netherlands alone. To remove the shamefulness of being exposed, victims will be blamed less, reducing the impact on the victims, removing power from the perpetrators and so forth.
Because of the information I found, I have focussed on women and girls, however, I am by no means trying to exclude male, or other forms of sexual harassment from the conversation.
Hadwin, J. (2017). Victim Blaming and Third-person Effect: A Comparative Analysis of Attitudes for Revenge Porn and Sexual Assault.
Het Parool. (2021, 16 januari). Meisje (13) maakt eind haar leven na online verspreiding expliciete beelden. https://www.ad.nl/binnenland/meisje-13-maakt-eind-aan-haar-leven-na-online-verspreiding-expliciete-beelden~af60d38b/
Johnson, V., Nadal, K., Sissoko, D., & King, R. (2021). “It’s Not in Your Head”: Gaslighting, ‘Splaining, Victim Blaming, and Other Harmful Reactions to Microaggressions. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 16(5), 1024-1036.
NOS Radio 1 Journaal. (2018, 13 april). Naaktfoto’s honderden meisjes gedeeld in wraakpornonetwerk. https://www.nporadio1.nl/fragmenten/nos-radio-1-journaal/05a988ba-1291-478e-8d05-ded720453c50/2018-04-13-naaktfotos-honderden-nederlandse-meisjes-gedeeld-in-wraakpornonetwerk
Verlaan, D. (2020). Ik weet je wachtwoord. Das Mag Uitgevers.