Threats Of Revenge Porn: A New Way To Silence Survivors Of Domestic Violence

When Alice first came to see me, she was terrified. She was trapped in a physically abusive relationship and needed help. Her boyfriend had threatened to send naked photos of her to all of her friends, family, and co-workers if she ever left him or told anyone. That threat perpetuated a cycle of abuse, which she endured for months before gathering the courage to seek help.

Alice is not a real person, but her story is based on an all too common fact pattern I see in domestic violence restraining order cases: threatened revenge porn. For those unfamiliar with the topic, “revenge porn” is defined generally as the distribution of nude or sexually explicit photos and/or videos of an individual without his/her consent. It is a humiliating and cruel practice designed to ruin lives. A topic receiving national media attention, revenge porn has been criminalized in 34 states plus D.C.

However, it is the threat of distributing these photos or videos that is perpetuating intimate partner violence.

Imagine someone like Alice receiving a text message from her boyfriend while she is at work, which includes a naked photo of her and the words: “I bet your boss would love to see this. Now stop ignoring me and ANSWER YOUR PHONE!” She just wants to be left alone, but with a single threat, her day falls apart.

As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito recently stated, “Threats of violence and intimidation are among the most favored weapons of domestic abusers, and the rise of social media has only made those tactics more commonplace.”

This disturbing trend of using threats of revenge porn to fuel domestic violence has diversified the ways in which abusers exert power and control over domestic violence survivors, but there is hope. New laws and resources are continually being developed to combat this issue. Listed below are several preventative and protective measures available to people like Alice:

Removal from Google. You can now ask Google to remove your sensitive personal information - like a bank account number, an image of your handwritten signature, or a nude or sexually explicit image or video of you that has been shared without your consent - from Google search results. The form can be found here.

Contact the website webmaster. Even if Google deletes the website or image from its search results, the webpage still exists (Google is not allowed to delete a website). The site will still be accessible through the URL, social media sharing, or other search engines. As a result, your best option for removing all access potential is contacting the webmaster, who can remove the page entirely.

Contact the social media company. Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter have policies against revenge porn. Notify them immediately if this policy is being violated.

Seek restraining order protection. The restrained party can be ordered not to disseminate and destroy the photos or videos, along with general orders not to harass or contact the protected party without facing a penalty.

Research criminal laws. As mentioned above, many states have enacted laws making revenge porn a crime. A list of those states can be found here.

Don’t delete the evidence. Threats of revenge porn are often communicated via text, email, social media or voicemail. Communications like these are sometimes deleted immediately because they are offensive, humiliating, and the person doesn’t want it on his/her phone/device. Saving these types of communications can preserve critical evidence for a future restraining order or criminal case.

Say ‘no’ to photos/videos. Many of the photos and videos in revenge porn cases are taken with the individual’s consent or voluntarily shared with the other person. As revenge porn cases have shown, this is a huge risk.

Don’t blame the victim. Too often, we cast blame on the victimized party: “What did she think was going to happen when she texted him naked photos?” This is not her fault, and such thinking can isolate and re-traumatize the victim, causing her to be less likely to seek help in the future.

Be an advocate. Every time you read an article like this one, you can be a resource to someone in need. So many domestic violence survivors are unaware of all the legal protections and resources available to them. They may have been intentionally misinformed, isolated and/or have lost hope. Some do not even recognize the threat of revenge porn as abuse, but it is just that. Informed members of the community can make a difference. Connect them with a resource, share what you’ve learned, and be an advocate for someone.

1-866-498-1511

Laura’s House Hotline

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline .