Getting ready for a night out, Rachel* was asked by her husband to take a sexy photo “for his eyes only.” Little did she know that the man she trusted, the one who fathered her children, would use that very image to humiliate and hurt her – even put her life at risk – when their unstable marriage disintegrated last year.
The Queensland woman is now battling depression and anxiety, and will barely step foot outside the house, after the photo of her wearing skimpy lingerie in a compromising position was emailed to everyone at her work, including the company’s directors.
The explicit email included her home address, phone numbers and email, and stated where she worked.
Embarrassingly, it advertised that she would participate in a sex orgy, describing her as “loving c**k” and saying she was keen for “anything”, including group sex, orgies, private shows and escort services.
It was revenge porn at its very worst. Humiliating, soul-destroying betrayal by someone she had loved for many years, but had separated from. “When I got the email I nearly died,” remembers Rachel. “After I’d calmed down and stopped crying, the company’s corporate services manager took me into the boardroom and told me I had to go to the police.”
But after giving the police a four-hour statement, Rachel was told there was no law in Australia to protect her from the contents of that toxic email.
Revenge porn is a worldwide phenomenon, with the victims being predominantly women. Imagine, like Rachel, you’re in love. Your partner asks you to send him a cheeky photo or two, so you do. Then you break up – and he makes your private photos public, for all to see.
Laws in Australia and overseas don’t give victims the right to sue for breach of privacy. You can request a site remove the image, and police can prosecute under the Crimes Act if they find a case, but stopping the spread of images is near impossible. Incredibly, there are even dedicated revenge porn websites, with their creators profiting from the victims’ exploitation.
The site, called Is Anyone Up?, was founded by Hunter Moore back in 2010. He was fittingly hailed “the most hated man on the internet” by Rolling Stone, and when victims ask for their images to be taken down, he is notoriously unresponsive.
But there are websites trying to turn the tide in women’s favour, like Women Against Revenge Porn, started by US victim Bekah Wells. Another is End Revenge Porn. That site’s victim outreach coordinator, Anisha Vora, tells Cosmo that more needs to be done to protect the vulnerable.
Vora, a victim herself, says that in most revenge posts an ex will have no problem giving out personal info, putting the women at risk.
“It’s unbelievable that someone can sit there and post naked pictures of someone without their consent and put all their information out, only to walk away with no charges,” she says. “I made the mistake of sending some pics to my ex, but I never condoned him to post them, and I sure as hell didn’t allow him to post my address, phone number and Facebook link.”
The big cover-up
In Rachel’s case, her ex-husband could not be prosecuted because he used a fake email account, and there was no way to trace it back to him.
“The police took him to court over threatening text messages he sent [to me] and managed to get him on a good behaviour bond for a few years, but the damage was done,” she says.
“Working after that was difficult, and I was made redundant last August.
“I don’t have the confidence to go after jobs I know I can do – I don’t know if anyone has seen the email or if my picture’s been posted [elsewhere],” she adds.
On a global scale, there are only two known criminal cases in which a person has been sentenced for posting revenge porn online. One was here in Australia, in 2011, when then 20-year-old NSW man Ravshan Usmanov was given a six-month suspended sentence after he uploaded naked pictures of his former girlfriend on to Facebook.
At the time, Usmanov told police he had put the photos up because “she hurt me and it was the only thing [I had] to hurt her”.
Body of evidence
The case became known as the first social networking-related conviction in Australian history, and the “tip of the iceberg” according to David Vaile, co-convener of the cyberspace law and policy centre at UNSW.
He says that some states in the US, including Wisconsin, New Jersey and Florida, are currently looking into ways they can improve the legal system with regard to revenge porn, while California has recently made it illegal. For the first time, in that state, those prosecuted will now face six months in jail and a $1000 fine.
Vaile stresses Australia needs to change the law to allow revenge porn victims the right to sue for breach of privacy. “If we had that, revenge porn would be easier to deal with.”
An Australian Federal Police spokesperson says social media users should be mindful that once an image is shared, control is lost. “The AFP acknowledges it can be devastating for victims, and encourages those whose images are re-posted without their consent to first report it to the social media site,” the spokesperson told Cosmo.
*Names have been changed
Words by Lisa Mayoh