Resource Center / Privacy / How to protect yourself from revenge porn

How to protect yourself from revenge porn


by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

In 2014, a woman’s ex-boyfriend posted sexually explicit photographs of her to a revenge porn website called MyEx. He also sent the photos to friends and coworkers and shared images directly to Tumblr as part of a campaign to “destroy” her. Even worse, the man impersonated her on online dating sites, where he publicized her address and encouraged men to drop by her home for sexual encounters.

For the vast majority, revenge porn is an incredibly distressing, ongoing battle to reclaim their images and their online reputations. To reduce the chances of becoming a victim of revenge porn, you need to learn all you can about it, including what it involves and the best ways to prevent it.

What is revenge porn?

Revenge porn is the act of sharing sexually explicit pictures or videos of someone else without their consent, with the goal of harassing that individual. And often, there is no element of revenge involved. In fact, many consider nonconsensual pornography or image abuse to be better terms because the word “revenge” implies that the victim did something wrong in the first place to warrant this type of revenge. 

The idea of revenge porn is not new, but with the rise of the Internet, it has become a booming business, spawning roughly 3,000 websites specializing in nonconsensual pictures. The people who frequent these websites take perverse pleasure in the fact that the pictures were posted without the subject’s consent (and sometimes without their knowledge, especially in the case of deepfakes and upskirting) and routinely post demeaning or offensive comments about the victim. 

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In an additional violation, these websites often dox the victims, posting private information, such as their name, age, home address, email address, employer, and social media information, by their picture. Viewers then use this information to contact and harass the victim. They also use it to find out more about the individual or uncover additional images, sometimes hacking into the person’s email account to do so.

Revenge porn perpetrators also upload images and videos to mainstream pornography websites. Others send the revealing images directly to the victim’s social media connections. Some even create entire websites devoted to the victim and then send the link to the victim’s family.

“It never goes away. What if I applied for a job and my employers Googled my name? Or if I wanted a future in the public eye? Would everything link back to it forever?” Mikala Monsoon, victim of revenge porn

Regardless of whether the victim willingly shared the images with the perpetrator, revenge porn is a crime in nearly every state. However, the laws vary by state, so you’ll need to do some research to see what’s covered where you live.

Ways to avoid becoming a victim

Revenge porn happens to more people than you might think. According to a 2017 study by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (PDF), nearly 1 in 8 social media users have someone else post intimate pictures of them, with women being 1.7 times more likely to experience this than men.

It’s important to know that you are not responsible for becoming a target of revenge porn. Nothing you say or do can cause this. This horrendous breach of trust is no one’s fault but the perpetrator’s. However, there are a few precautions you can take that will help reduce the odds of becoming a victim.

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  • Install security software on your phone and computer: Doing so can help prevent hackers from obtaining your data, including your personal images.
  • Don’t share your passwords: Giving out your passwords increases the odds of someone getting access to all your private pictures. Remember, just because you trust someone today doesn’t mean he or she will remain trustworthy.
  • Always lock down your computer or phone when you step away: This is a common-sense precaution that people often forget. Remember, it only takes a minute for someone to find your images on your device. However, a simple password will deter opportunists thinking to take advantage of your absence.
  • Monitor the Web for your image: Do a reverse image search to find if any of your pictures are posted online. The sooner you find out where they are posted, the sooner you can take them down.
  • Store any intimate pictures in a password-protected folder on your computer: The cloud can be hacked, so you should store your photos in a secure location on your computer. This way, they have another layer of protection if someone gains access to your device.
  • Make sure you own the copyrights to any personal pictures of you: If you took your photos, then you already own the copyright. However, if someone else took your photos, then you need to ask that individual to complete a copyright assignment form (PDF). While this may not technically prevent someone from posting your photos without your consent, it will make it much easier to remove them if it does happen. Don’t wait until you are a victim to take this step. 
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  • Proactively maintain a positive online reputation: Like the previous tip, this won’t necessarily prevent someone from targeting you, but it can limit the reputational damage that revenge porn can cause when it does happen. Some good ways of constructing a good reputation are starting a personal blog and deleting any social media posts that don’t reflect the best version of yourself.
  • Don’t engage with anyone who tries to coerce you into sharing a naked photo: Only share photos on your terms. If someone is pressuring you into sending a sexually explicit picture, that person is obviously not acting in your best interests. If you are a minor, you need to report this behavior to an adult.

“Let’s be clear: Coercing someone into sending an intimate picture and then distributing that image without consent isn’t “sexting.” It’s a violation and a crime.”—Carrie Goldberg, victims’ rights attorney and author of Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls

What to do if you if it happens to you

Revenge porn can be emotionally and financially devastating. It can ruin your career, subject you to harassment, and cause long-lasting trauma. If someone has uploaded intimate pictures of you without your consent, you need to act quickly. The faster you respond, the less damage your reputation will sustain.

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  1. Document the evidence: Take screenshots of all the websites and links to pages where your pictures appear. Then, make copies of everything and keep them in a safe place.
  2. Report the pictures on social media: Check out the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative’s comprehensive online removal guide to learn how to get revenge porn photos removed from most social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Snapchat, and Tumblr. 
  3. Ask search engines to remove the pictures from search results: To remove revenge porn from showing up in your Google search results, follow the instructions on the Remove unwanted & explicit personal images from Google page. To remove this content from Bing search results, fill out Microsoft’s Non-consensual pornography reporting form.
  4. Send DMCA notices to websites: A Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice (PDF) tells the person or company that is hosting or linking to your pictures that the pictures infringe on a copyright and must be removed. You can usually find out who to send this notice to in a website’s Terms of Service or special Copyrights section. Because the perpetrator might see this notice (which contains your contact information), you might consider having a third party send it on your behalf.
  5. Go to the police: If your state has a revenge porn law, you should file a report at your local police station. Be sure to bring copies of your screenshots, along with evidence of any other crimes, like hacking, harassment, impersonation, coercion, stalking, or extortion. Because they are additional crimes, you should also tell the police if you were a minor in the photographs or if the perpetrator photographed you without your knowledge.
  6. File a complaint with the FTC: If a website has posted an image of you without your consent and refuses to take it down, you should file a complaint with the FTC. The FTC can sue entities that refuse to comply.

Resources

If you are worried about—or are already dealing with revenge porn—there are lots of places you can go for more information, including:

In addition, if you need assistance in repairing your online reputation, call ReputationDefender. We are happy to provide a free consultation to discuss your options.