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Meet The Women Seeking Revenge On Revenge Porn

© Cecilie Bødker

A few weeks ago, a woman launched a landmark case against a site hosting naked videos of her without her consent. Why isn’t more being done to protect women from this demeaning crime, asks Anna Silverman...

One morning in October 2011, Emma Holten couldn’t log in to her Facebook or emails. She didn’t think anything of it – she often forgot her passwords – so she tried again. What she found shook her to her core. Waiting for her were thousands of emails containing naked pictures of her. They had been taken a few years earlier in her ex boyfriend’s bedroom – yet here they were, being sent to her by men from all over the world.

Alongside the pictures were messages saying: ‘Do your parents know

you’re a slut?’ ‘Who did this to you?’ ‘Send me more or I’ll send these ones to your boss.’ She had become one of the hundreds of thousands of women who are victims of ‘revenge porn’, which is when sexually explicit images of people are posted online without their consent.

‘Understanding the impact of being abused and violated by thousands of

people is not something that hits you,' she tells Grazia. ‘It sneaks up on you and engulfs your whole being. I felt extreme humiliation and a loss of control over myself. I had lost every sort of hold on how I wanted to be perceived.’

Photographs by Cecilie Bødker © Cecilie Bødker

Months passed and the emails kept coming. Along with the pictures, her age, email address, phone number, work details and where she’d gone to school had been stolen and uploaded to a site called 4chan.

The pictures were being sent around her Facebook friends and links were being emailed to her parents. Then they’d appear on new sites and hundreds of calls, rape threats and emails would start arriving again. She stopped applying for jobs, never told people her surname for fear of them Googling her and she was too paranoid to have a relationship.

‘I quickly sank into a very serious depression,’ adds Emma, 25, an editor from Denmark. ‘The worst part was not knowing who had done this to me. It was clear that the intention was not to make people desire me, but to destroy me.’

Revenge porn is most often carried out by ex-partners, bent on causing distress. It has been illegal in the UK since April 2015, carrying a punishment of up to two years in prison. Last year, 74 offenders were cautioned for revenge porn and 82 defendants were prosecuted. But the law does not apply to content that was already on the internet before the law was passed.

Since its launch last February, the Government’s Revenge Porn Helpline has received nearly 4,500 calls, mostly from women. But campaigners say that these measures are failing to stem the problem.

‘We need longer sentences,’ says Laura Higgins, online safety operations manager at the Revenge Porn Helpline. ‘Anonymity status for victims is essential and police officers must have training to understand the impact on victims. This often isn’t seen as a serious crime and most forces are at a loss while dealing with it.’

When Grazia spoke to Laura at 11.30am, the helpline had received two

calls and seven emails from victims that morning. ‘The more our courts take revenge porn seriously, the more people will come forward,’ she says.

This month, a law firm will be the first to use British courts to sue a website that featured a revenge porn video. Lawyers for American YouTube star Chrissy Chambers have already launched action against her

British ex-boyfriend after he uploaded a naked video of her from when she was 18, allegedly filmed without her knowledge.

Chrissy, 25, found out about the video in 2013 when a friend saw it. ‘I Googled myself and what I saw made me crumble to the ground in tears,’ she says. ‘I was struck with terror – I would never have

guessed he’d do this to me.’

She met her ex in 2009 on a Facebook forum. Chrissy described it as a fairy-tale relationship and her ex quickly moved to America to be with her. But he became controlling and Chrissy ended the relationship a few months later.

She met her current girlfriend, Bria Kam, soon after and the pair set up an LGBT and women’s rights YouTube channel which now has 640,000 subscribers. But as the revenge porn went viral, people started commenting on their videos, calling Chrissy a ‘slut’ and saying they couldn’t look up to her any more.

‘I spiralled into a deep depression and became an alcoholic – Bria would find me passed out on the floor and I’d wake up in A&E,’ Chrissy explains. ‘I’ve had posttraumatic stress disorder ever since and often have night terrors.’ Chrissy recently met US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and extracted a promise from her to do more to tackle revenge porn.

‘Pursuing the websites is overdue,’ she says. ‘If one woman can avoid going through what happened to me then it will have been worthwhile.’

Chrissy’s lawyer, Ann Olivarius, explains the sites rely on a defence that users can upload whatever they like and the website has no

responsibility to remove it.

Websites also ask uploaders to tick a box stating they have the consent of all the people in the video. Ann, who is fighting for damages to be

paid to Chrissy, told Grazia, ‘This defence falls flat, in our view. The law should state that all parties must give their consent, not just the uploader. Once porn sites have to start paying out damages they’ll

think twice before hosting this stuff.’

It’s not just aggrieved exes who do this. Charlotte White, a 23-year-old care worker from Sussex, was horrified when a family friend – for no obvious reason – took a normal photo of her (below) from Facebook and posted it on a porn website, with a message that read: ‘100 to rape her… 20 to make her miscarry.’

‘I was in disbelief when I realised it was him,’ she tells Grazia. ‘I felt sick, violated and mentally abused. And, what’s worse, my pictures are still being viewed by thousands of disgusting men every day and

there’s nothing I can do about it. He was asking men to keep

sharing the pictures as I “needed to be degraded”.’

Charlotte told the were traced back to her former friend, who was arrested and cautioned. ‘I can’t believe these websites are still allowed to exist,’ she adds. ‘Chrissy’s case gives me hope, but it’s such a shame it’s only taken seriously when it’s too late.’

But if there’s a glimmer of hope for victims, it’s that politicians are starting to take the issue seriously. Conservative MP Maria Miller has championed revenge porn victims and raised the issue of victim anonymity and police training in Parliament.

She told Grazia, ‘Until we have police trained to collect evidence and

a better understanding of how we provide for victims, then we won’t be able to secure the level of convictions which reflect the magnitude of the crime.’

Photographs by Cecilie Bødker © Cecilie Bødker

As for Emma, she doesn’t expect the abuse to stop any time soon – two weeks ago, German TV channel RTL broadcast the old revenge porn pictures as part of a segment on an entertainment show. But she has decided to write her own story’s ending by starting a project called Consent. She asked a feminist photographer to take naked pictures of her so she would finally have control over her own image.

‘I wanted to raise awareness about my consent being violated but show that, if I take the pictures, I have the power over how I am seen. As soon as the pictures were taken, a sense of calm and safety washed over me. I was in control again.’

Sign the petition to give victims anonymity in the press.

Revenge Porn Helpline: 0845 600 0459

PHOTO CREDITS: Cecilie Bødker

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