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behindthescreens-harassment

Behind the Screens: Revenge Porn

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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.

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Congressional Briefing to Be Held on Cyberstalking and Online Threats

Cyberstalking and online threats are serious issues in our digital age. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, nearly one in five (18%) of all internet users have experienced severe forms of online abuse, including physical threats, stalking, sustained harassment and/or sexual harassment. Young female internet users (age 18-24) experience the most severe online violence.

On Wednesday, April 15, at 10 a.m. ET the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, National Council of Women’s Organizations and The National Organization for Women will hold a congressional briefing about these issues in partnership with United States Representative Katherine Clark. During the briefing, experts will discuss the prevalence of cyberstalking and online threats and how to combat them. Scheduled to attend are:

  • Michelle Garcia, Director of the Stalking Resource Center
  • Zoe Quinn, Video Game Developer and Co-founder of Crash Override
  • John Wilkinson, Attorney Advisor at AEquitas: The Prosecutors’ Resource on Violence Against Women
  • Danielle Keats Citron, Lois K. Macht Research Professor and Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace

The briefing will be broadcast live on the National Center for Victims of Crime’s Twitter handle. To participate, simply follow @CrimeVictimsOrg on Twitter. We hope you’ll join the conversation using the hashtag #StopWebH8 and help spread the word!

Additional Reading:

behindthescreens-spyware

Behind the Screens: Spyware and Domestic Violence

behindthescreens-spywareThis is a post in our Behind the Screens series, which explores issues related to digital/online abuse.

Technology opens up so many possibilities to connect with people around the world, but unfortunately the other side of the coin is the potential for abuse. As we’ve been discussing in our Behind the Screens series, mobile devices and computers can become tools for an abusive partner to manipulate, control, and shame a victim. They can also be used to spy.

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, “spyware is a computer software program or hardware device that enables an unauthorized person (such as an abusive partner) to secretly monitor and gather information about your computer [or cell phone] use.” Spyware can track everything you do, from keystrokes, to the sites you visit, to documents you print, to messages you send. In some cases, a person does not need physical access to your device to install spyware, and it can be very difficult to detect.

Spyware is starting to play a larger role in cases of digital abuse, thanks to easy-to-install and inexpensive technology. Much of the spyware software and apps available today are aimed at parents for monitoring kids and teens, but there are companies that market their products specifically for spying on spouses or partners. This issue has become so prevalent in domestic violence cases that Senator Al Franken (D-MN) has introduced legislation that would ban mobile spying apps.

How can you tell if spyware is being used on your devices?

As we previously noted, spyware can be difficult to detect. However, if you think your activities are being monitored by your abusive partner, there’s a good chance you are correct. For example, your partner might:

  • know your whereabouts when you haven’t told them specifically where you’ve been

  • know things about your online search history even after you’ve deleted it

  • know about conversations with or messages you’ve sent to others

  • question you about topics you have personally researched but never discussed

Additionally, on a cell phone you might notice that the battery drains quickly or data usage spikes. These can all be signs that your devices are being monitored.

What can you do if you discover (or suspect) you are being tracked by spyware?

You might be tempted to get rid of your device or try and remove the spyware, but be aware that your abusive partner might retaliate as a result. Do not use a computer or cell phone that your partner has access to in order to research shelters, escape plans, or to call/chat with hotlines. Use a computer at a library, at a friend’s house or at work, or borrow a friend’s cell phone or work phone to make calls. Use your own devices for innocuous tasks (such as looking up the weather) so that your partner does not get suspicious of inactivity.

If you believe you are being monitored, or even if you’re not sure, try to find a safe phone or computer and call us at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online every day from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. CST. We can help you safety plan and direct you to local resources.

Additional Resources:

behindthescreens-harassment

Behind the Screens: “Help! My Ex is Harassing Me Online”

behindthescreens-harassmentThis is a post in our Behind the Screens series. Read the previous posts here and here

Breakups are a difficult time for any couple, but they can be an especially difficult and potentially dangerous time for survivors of abusive relationships. Even if you’re able to safely leave the relationship, the abusive partner can still cause harm from afar in a variety of ways. Technology and social media create new spaces where abuse can take place. This is called digital abuse, and it is just as unacceptable as any other form of abuse.

Even if your ex-partner did not exhibit abusive behaviors during the relationship, there’s still a possibility that feelings of anger, hurt, sadness, loneliness, or loss of control could lead them to become abusive online. They could hack into your email accounts or send unwanted emails, post unwanted messages or pictures on social media sites, or create fake profiles to harass you and people you know. If your ex is harassing you online, here are some ways to handle it:

  • Clearly tell your ex to stop harassing you, if you feel safe doing so. It’s important to let your ex know that what they are doing is abusive, preferably in a way that lets you keep a record of your request either by saving the text or email you send, or taking a screenshot of a message you send online. After you have told your ex to stop the harassment, do not respond to any future communications.
  • Save everything. You might wish to delete the unwanted messages immediately, but try to keep a record of any communications your ex sends. Save emails and chat logs, take screenshots of status updates, direct messages, comments, pictures, or websites.
  • Take steps to increase your online privacy. Check to make sure that the settings on any social media site you belong to are set to maximum privacy. Change your passwords, block or unfriend your ex, and don’t provide details of your social plans or whereabouts online – this includes avoiding “checking in” to places on Facebook or using apps like Foursquare.
  • If your ex is harassing you via email, create a separate email account with an uncrackable password to use only with people you trust. This way, you can communicate with friends and family via the new email address and you won’t have to see your ex’s emails everyday. Again, save any abusive emails that your ex sends to you, but do not respond to them.
  • Let people in your support system know that your ex is harassing you, if you feel comfortable doing so. Make them aware of your safety plan so they aren’t tagging you when they check in to places or otherwise mentioning your location online. It’s important not to go through this alone and for others to be aware of your ex’s behavior. If your ex tries to contact people you know, ask them not to respond and to keep records of those communications as well.
  • If you believe your life is being threatened and/or if the harassment continues or escalates, you might consider taking legal action. All states have laws against cyberstalking, and it could help to speak with a legal advocate about protective orders or other legal measures. If you choose to pursue legal recourse, a record of your ex’s abusive communications would be useful.

If you are experiencing digital abuse from an ex or current partner, a good resource is the DIY Feminist Guide to Cybersecurity. WomensLaw.org also has information about cyberstalking and online safety.

You can always call the hotline anytime day or night at 1-800-799-7233 to speak with an advocate about options and support. Remember, everyone has the right to live free from abuse, online and off.

behindthescreens-harassment

What is Digital Abuse?

behindthescreens-harassmentThis is the first post in a series we’re planning called Behind the Screens, which will explore issues related to online behaviors and digital abuse.

The prevalence of digital abuse has been gaining traction in the media lately, and our advocates frequently field questions from callers and chatters about it. Still, many people don’t know what constitutes digital abuse and are not able to recognize the signs. It is especially common among young people who are typically using technology in almost every aspect of their lives, but anyone can be a victim of digital abuse.

Digital abuse is the use of technologies such as texting and social networking to bully, harass, stalk or intimidate a partner. In most cases, this type of abuse is emotional and/or verbal and though it is perpetuated online, it has a strong impact on a victim’s real life. According to advocates at loveisrespect, your partner may be digitally abusing you if he or she:

  • Tells you who you can or can’t be friends with on Facebook and other sites
  • Sends negative, insulting or even threatening emails, Facebook messages, tweets, DMs or other messages online
  • Uses sites like Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and others to keep constant tabs on you
  • Puts you down in their status updates
  • Sends unwanted, explicit pictures and demands you send some in return
  • Pressures you to send explicit video
  • Steals or insists to be given your passwords
  • Constantly texts you and makes you feel like you can’t be separated from your phone for fear that you will be punished
  • Looks through your phone frequently, checks up on your pictures, texts and outgoing calls
  • Tags you unkindly in pictures on Instagram, Tumblr, etc.

Digital abuse, like other forms of abuse, is an attempt to control a partner’s actions. As part of maintaining a healthy relationship, we recommend that partners create a digital contract that outlines what is and is not acceptable behavior online. Additionally, it’s important to know and exercise your “digital rights”:

  • You have the right to turn off your phone and spend time with friends and family without your partner getting angry
  • You have the right to say no to sexting, or sending pictures or information digitally to your partner that you are not comfortable with
  • You have the right to keep your logins and passwords private
  • You have the right to control your own privacy settings on social networking sites
  • You have the right to feel safe and respected in your relationship, online or off

Exercising these rights and feeling safe are important aspects of every healthy relationship. If you have questions about digital abuse, call the hotline 24/7 or chat with an advocate here on the website from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Central time.