An exclusive look at revenge porn and sexting

By Darsha Jethava, Jacqueline Tucci, Maham Shakeel

A Ryerson student has described the experience and trauma she felt when a man she met on the Internet posted nude photos of her online when she was younger.

Later as a teen, her uncle approached her sexually online. She chose to remain anonymous.

The student spoke to The Ryersonian following the panel “Revenge Porn and Sexting: What to do?” hosted on April 8 by Ryerson’s School of Journalism (RSJ) and the Centre for Free Expression (CFJE).

YouTube / TheRyersonian – via Iframely

The host of the panel, RSJ distinguished visiting professor James Turk, is the director of the CFJE, which is based out of Ryerson University. Turk is respected for his work in defending academic freedom and free expression across the country. He spoke to The Ryersonian about the increase of revenge porn and sexting abuse and what it says about today’s society.

What is revenge porn?

According to the United States based Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), the term revenge porn refers to any sexually explicit material posted online where any of the people shown in a photo or video did not consent to the material being posted.  In 2012, the CCRI launched the “End Revenge Porn” campaign.

However, the CCRI says the widely used term “revenge porn” can be misleading. As stated on their website, “many perpetrators are not motivated by revenge or by any personal feelings toward the subject of the sexting abuse. A more accurate term is non-consensual pornography.”

This includes photos or videos obtained either with or without the knowledge of the individual. This can happen through the use of hidden cameras or computer hacking, or if the subject and perpetrator are in an otherwise trusting relationship and consensually created the material.

The scope of the problem

While there are not any recent statistics about sexting abuse and revenge porn in Canada currently available, there have been various surveys and studies conducted in the United States that provide a fairly clear picture of how the issues are affecting society as a whole.

A 2013 survey conducted by McAfee, an American cybersecurity company, found that 32 per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 54 have had to ask a partner to delete an intimate photo or video them, while one in 10 people said that an ex-partner has threatened to post the material.

Wayne MacKay, a human rights lawyer and professor at Dalhousie University, said at the panel that the targets of revenge porn are generally women and the perpetrators generally men.

“It’s all part of the larger picture in terms of the perception of women and violence against women,” he said.

According to a survey from the CCRI’s campaign, ninety per cent of revenge porn victims are women, and of them, 93 per cent have claimed to suffer “significant emotional distress” as a result. Nearly half of them have said that they have also been stalked or harassed online in response to the material.

Revenge porn and the law

Last year, Bill C-13, the “Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act,” otherwise known as the anti-cyberbullying act, was passed. This act makes “non-consensual distribution of intimate images” a criminal offence.

This bill defines an intimate image as a “visual recording of a person made by any means including a photographic, film or video recording” in which a person is naked and engaged in any kind of sex act. It also states that there needs to be a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time the image was created.

While the act was largely talked about in relation to how it protects people under 18, the law applies to people of all ages. The first conviction under the act was in March 2016, when a Winnipeg man was sentenced to 90 days in jail after he posted nude photos of his ex-girlfriend, who he said confessed to cheating on him.

Criticism of laws

“It’s a question of free expression on both sides, privacy on both sides, and equality, perhaps more on one side,” MacKay said.

Free expression is often flagged as an area of concern when trying to enforce laws around revenge porn. Many argue that to regulate the Internet and what one posts is a direct violation of freedom of expression.

Peter Jacobsen, a media lawyer who represents The Globe and Mail, said at the panel that the ability to express ourselves freely is the “essential difference” between our government and more totalitarian governments, and raised his concern about the infringement on this freedom that laws like Bill C-13 could have.

Response beyond the law

Corporations like Google have refused to remove revenge porn, citing concerns over Internet monitoring and regulation.

In 2015, however, the former head of Google Search, Amit Singhal, announced the company would be launching an online form where victims of revenge porn could submit “take down requests,” and said that Google would review them.

In a statement on his blog, Singhal wrote that while Google’s philosophy has always been to ensure that Google Search reflects the whole web, revenge porn is intensely personal and emotionally damaging and only serves to degrade the subjects of the abuse.

“So going forward, we’ll honour requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results,” he said.

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