Behind the Screens: Revenge Porn


This is a post in our Behind the Screens series, which explores issues related to digital abuse. To read other posts in the series, click here

“If you leave, I’ll ruin your life with these pictures…”

One of the more insidious forms of digital abuse is nonconsensual pornography, often referred to as “revenge porn.” This type of abuse intersects with sexual abuse, as it involves the digital distribution of nude or sexually explicit photos and/or videos of a person without their consent. It’s called “revenge” porn because the images or videos are often used as retaliation or as blackmail material by a current or former partner.

At The Hotline, we hear from many people who have experienced this form of abuse. Some victims have willingly shared images privately with their partners, only to have their partners break their trust and later threaten to distribute those images publicly. Others have had partners coerce or force them into creating sexually explicit materials in order to shame, control and manipulate them. Alternatively, some abusive partners take photographs or videos without the victims’ knowledge and then use the threat of sharing those materials online to maintain control over the victim. No matter what the situation, breaking the trust of a partner and manipulating or shaming them in this way is abusive behavior.

Like all forms of abuse, revenge porn is extremely traumatizing. Unfortunately, legislation has been slow to respond; not all states have enacted laws against revenge porn or recognize it as a crime, leaving victims with little to no legal recourse in some cases. End Revenge Porn, a campaign of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, provides a guide to current state laws as well as a list of additional resources for survivors.

Safety Tips

You have the right to say “no” if you are not comfortable sending your partner sexually explicit images. No one is ever obligated to engage in sexual activity of any kind, with anyone. Note that in every state it is illegal to have or share sexual photos or videos of anyone who is under the age of 18. If your partner continues to request images or videos you are not comfortable taking or sending, here are some safety tips:  

  • Tell your partner your parents/guardian monitors your devices making it so you cannot take or send sexually explicit material.  
  • Change out your phone to one that does not have the capability of taking photos or recording video.
  • Suggest other ways of connecting sexually that cannot be documented.

If your partner continues to pressure you or starts forcing you to send sexually explicit materials and you do not feel safe resisting or refusing, you may feel that the safest course of action is to send them. The following tips may help protect your safety and privacy as much as possible:

  • Try to avoid showing any identifying features (face, tattoos, birthmarks, etc) in the pictures you send.
  • Take pictures using a neutral, non-identifying background with dark lighting.
  • Add a filter to the photo that will alter coloring making the image less identifiable.
  • Google has created a form where revenge porn victims can request that their images be removed from search results. You can access the form here.
  • Reach out to your support systems and make an emotional safety plan.

A Survivor’s Story

The following story was shared with us by a survivor of revenge porn. She has given us permission to reprint her story here. Her experience reflects the trauma and frustration that many people feel when they become victims of revenge porn. Please be aware, this story may be triggering for some readers.

“I was in high school when I met my ex. He was a decade older than me. We dated for a few years and eventually married after much opposition from my family and friends. He controlled every aspect of my young adult life and was often verbally, sexually, and physically abusive.

When I was 18 he asked that I send him a few naked pictures of myself. He told me if I did not send them, he would leave me for someone else who was more mature. I was in love with him, and at the time I didn’t understand that this type of behavior was abuse. After sending him the pictures, I immediately regretted it because it was not something I wanted to do.

I tried to leave the relationship several times, but my ex would threaten me and mention how he was going to ruin my life with the “pictures” if I left. I feared that he would follow through on his threats, which made leaving that much more difficult.

After our child was born I found the courage to leave him and file for divorce. I feared for our safety and our future during that time. I knew the emotional/verbal abuse would continue and that he would follow through on his threat to “ruin my life” with the pictures.

During our separation, I was granted an ex parte order of protection after continuous threats and harassment. After my divorce became final, the ex parte expired and I learned that my ex-husband had posted naked pictures of me on two separate porn websites. One of the websites was devoted entirely to revenge porn and listed my first and last name. The pictures I shared with him when I was 18 were posted along with several other pictures he took without my knowledge. The amount of pain I felt after finding pictures of myself naked on the internet made me physically sick.

I immediately contacted my attorney and local domestic violence agency in search of help. I received emotional support from multiple sources, but it became clear that I had no legitimate legal options due to the absence of a revenge porn law in my state. I was fortunate that the pictures were removed from the websites, but I realize that they could be reposted at any time.

It has been over a year and half since I found out the pictures were posted, but I have not been the same since. I go to therapy frequently to try to help with the anxiety and depression from the revenge porn and heal from the years of abuse.

My ex-husband has used revenge porn as an abuse tactic for years and he has made it clear that he has no intentions of stopping.

I desperately want to be free from “the pictures” and most importantly free from the control of my abusive ex-husband. In order for victims of revenge porn to regain their freedom from their abusers there must be legal consequences for this type of abuse.”


If your partner is pressuring you to send explicit pictures or video, or if they are threatening to distribute materials you have shared, you can call The Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 any time or chat via our website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central. Our advocates are here to provide support, safety planning tips, and can also connect you with local or legal resources depending on your situation.


Behind the Screens: Reducing Tech Footprints

behind-screens-footprintsThis is a post in our Behind the Screens series, which explores issues related to digital abuse. This post was written by Lauren, a Hotline advocate.

When navigating an abusive relationship it is important to have safe access to online resources and communication. Sometimes an abusive partner might monitor computer usage by checking web browsing history or even using tracking software on the computer. Ideally, connecting online should be done on a safe computer that the abusive partner can’t access, such as the computer of a trusted friend or a public computer at a library or community center. When it is not possible to use the internet from a safe device, there are still ways to reduce the technological footprints left on your computer. (Keep in mind that there is no way to completely delete internet history. If your partner is using spyware on your device, they will likely still have access to your browsing history. Learn more about spyware in this post.)

Below we are going to explore safety options in four common web browsers. A web browser is the software that allows someone to connect to the internet, such as Internet Explorer or Safari. For each of the four browsers there are steps for how to delete all browsing history, delete selective browsing history, and use a private browsing mode that does not record browsing history. This information is based off the latest version of the browsers at the time this post is published. If you are unsure of which browser or version you are using, will help you identify your browser. If your browser is not listed below or you are using an older version of a browser, information on how to take these precautions may be found in the support section of your browser’s website.

Internet Explorer: Version IE 11

Private browsing mode is referred to as InPrivate Browsing. An InPrivate Browsing session needs to be activated each time a session is begun.

  1. Once a browser window is open select Tools from the browser’s menu
  2. Select Safety
  3. Select InPrivate Browsing to start an InPrivate Browsing session

Delete All Internet History

  1. Once a browser window is open select Tools or the Tool Icon from the top of the browser window.
  2. Select Safety
  3. Select Delete Browsing History
  4. A pop up will appear, select Delete

Selectively Delete History

  1. Click Favorites Button
  2. Select History Tab
  3. Select the options of how you would like to view your history. The options View by Date and View by Order Visited Today may be the most helpful.
  4. Right click on the site you would like to delete and select Delete

Safari: Version Safari 7

Private browsing mode is referred to as Private Browsing. A Private Browsing session needs to be activated each time a session is begun

  1. Select Safari from the top menu for the browser
  2. Select Private Browsing

Delete All Internet History

  1. Select History from the top menu for the browser
  2. Select Clear History

Selectively Delete History

  1. Select History from the top menu for the browser
  2. Select Show History
  3. Select the websites you would like to delete and then press Delete

Chrome: Version Chrome 39

Private Browsing mode is referred to as Incognito. An Incognito session needs to be activated each time a session is begun

  1. Select the Chrome Menu from the browser window. It looks like three horizontal lines and is usually in the top right of the browser
  2. Select New Incognito Window

Delete All Internet History

  1. Select the Chrome Menu from the browser window. It looks like three horizontal lines and is usually in the top right of the browser
  2. Select Tools
  3. Select Clear Browsing Data
  4. A pop up will appear and select what you want to have deleted
  5. Select Clear Browsing Data

Selectively Delete History

  1. Select the Chrome Menu from the browser window. It looks like three horizontal lines and is usually in the top right of the browser
  2. Select History
  3. Select the pages you would like to delete
  4. At the top right of the page select Remove Selected Items
  5. Select Remove

Firefox: Version Firefox 34

Private Browsing mode is accessed by opening a Private Window. A Private Window needs to be activated each time a session is begun

  1. Select the Firefox Menu button at the top of the browser. It looks like three horizontal lines.
  2. Select New Private Window

Delete All Internet History

  1. Select the Firefox Menu button at the top of the browser. It looks like three horizontal lines
  2. Select History
  3. Select Clear Recent History
  4. Select the time range that you would like to delete all history from
  5. Select Clear Now

Selectively Delete History

  1. Select the Firefox Menu button at the top of the browser. It looks like three horizontal lines
  2. Select History
  3. Select Show All History
  4. Hold down the Control key on your keyboard as you click on the website you would like to delete.
  5. Select Forget About the Site

Again, these are just some precautions you can take to help reduce your web footprint, but these steps don’t guarantee your safety. You know your situation best, so do what feels right for you. If you’d like to develop a personal safety plan, our advocates are here to help! Call us at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or chat via this website from 7am-2am CST everyday.


Behind the Screens: How to Maximize Online Privacy

behindthescreens-privacyThis is the second post in our Behind the Screens series. Read the first post, What is Digital Abuse?, here

Online privacy is a bit of an oxymoron. According to Ed Gibson, former head of cybersecurity at Microsoft and director of security at PWC Global, data that is posted on the internet should be regarded as permanent after 20 minutes, even if the originator has deleted the file. Nevertheless, 86% of internet users have tried to use the internet in ways to minimize the visibility of their digital footprints.

Despite a majority of internet users’ attempts at maintaining some privacy, social networking companies like Facebook are regularly tweaking their privacy policies, slowly making themselves (and as a result, their users) more public. Location-based apps can glean information from your mobile phone, and advertisers can use swaths of search history and site cookies to better target potential customers.

It’s all a little scary, right?

If you’re in an abusive relationship, or if you’ve left one, you are likely even more concerned than the average person about maintaining privacy online. For most of us it may not be possible to opt out of using the internet altogether, but there are a few things you can do to maximize your online privacy:

  • Check your privacy settings regularly on all social media sites that you use, and update them as needed. Lifehacker maintains an up-to-date article about new Facebook privacy changes.
  • Try to create “uncrackable” passwords and change them regularly. Don’t share your passwords with anyone you don’t know or trust completely. Remember, you can exercise your “digital rights.”
  • Read the privacy policies of any app or site that you sign up for. Many people do not do this, but it will help you get a lot of clarity into how the company or site is collecting and using your information.
  • Avoid oversharing personal information online. Don’t post your address, phone number, email, full birth date, or any other identifying information on any social networking site. Sites like Facebook request a lot of personal information now (including place of work, hometown, etc), but it is absolutely not imperative to post yours.

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit based in California, provides a wealth of information about protecting your privacy in many areas of your life, including online. They offer some additional tips on staying safe and secure on the net, and be sure to check out a few of their other articles, too:

Using the Internet Safely
Online Privacy FAQ

If you have questions about how you can make online safety part of your overall safety plan, our advocates are here to help you. Give us a call at 1-800-799-7233, 24/7, or chat with us here on the website from 7am-2am CST. Our support services are always free, anonymous, and confidential.