What to do if you’re a victim of revenge porn & image-based abuse

123RF/Jose Albert Moros
123RF/Jose Albert Moros

People’s habits have changed significantly under lockdown. Unfortunately, not all of them have been positive and with an increase in the use of digital communication there has also been an alarming increase in image-based abuse such as cyberbullying and revenge porn.

Emma Sadleir, a social media expert with the Digital Law Company, says she has received numerous complaints about sextortion during South Africa’s lockdown period. “Everything is happening online. People are home and bored, so many are willing to send pictures,” she says.

Apart from South Africa there has also been an increase in online image-based abuse cases in other parts of the world. Britain’s state-funded Revenge Porn Helpline reported 250 new cases in April – double the amount of cases reported the previous year – and Australia’s eSafety Commissioner that promotes online safety in Australia saw a 210% increase in reports of image-based abused after receiving more than 1,000 reports between March and May 2020.

In response to incidents of online abuse, 1st for Women Insurance recently introduced a cyberbullying insurance product. According to CEO Robyn Farrell, there are three categories of online offences. Cyberbullying entails the sending of intimidating or threatening messages, often via social media. This is a prevalent form of bullying amongst school children.

Revenge porn is the sharing of nude or sexually explicit photos of a person, either via social media, texts, emails or by uploading the content to pornographic websites with the intention of humiliating the victim. This is often perpetrated by a previous partner of the victim.

Sextortion happens when victims are lured into carrying out sexually explicit acts, such as performing sexual acts or posing nude for photos, and then using this footage to blackmail the victim. Mike Bolhuis of Specialised Security Services, a private South African security company, says sextortion is a low risk way to make money or extort sexual favours from victims. “Most extortionists get away with the crime because the victims are often worried about reporting these offences to the police because they are embarrassed,” he says.

Farrell says it’s important to remember that image-based abuse is a crime. “The victim is never to blame – the fault lies completely with the perpetrator.” If you’re a victim of these forms of online abuse, Farrell recommends taking four steps.

Firstly, you should make a record of the content that has been posted online, including as much information as possible that you are comfortable sharing in court, including the date the content was posted, where it was posted, what was posted and who posted it. The best way is to take screenshots of web pages, messages, etc. that can be used as evidence even if the perpetrator deletes the content. Keep any relevant evidence and make copies of everything.

Next, you need to file two reports: one to the police and another to the administrators of the platform on which the content has been shared or posted. It might help to send the company or platform a copy of your police report. Lastly, Farrell suggests finding an attorney that can represent your case in court.

Taking your case to court is recommended because revenge porn is a crime in South Africa that is governed by the Films and Publications Amendment Act of 2019. If you are found to have knowingly distributed private sexual content without the consent of the person featured, shared this type of footage with the intention of causing the person harm or uploaded private photographs of a sexual nature in which the person can be clearly identified or named you can face severe fines or jail time.


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