It’s not just A-listers that suddenly find intimate images of themselves popping up online. It is happening in cities, towns and villages around Ireland and so an Irish barrister has set up The Hit Team says Áilín Quinlan
IT’S THE latest form of misogyny — and a living nightmare for victims. Revenge porn is taking the cyberworld by storm — think of movie star Jennifer Lawrence, who last year discovered that nude photographs of her had been hacked and posted on a number of different internet sites.
But Hollywood celebrities are not the only ones being targeted — here in Ireland women are discovering that intimate photographs or videos featuring them in compromising situations have been posted online to be viewed by friends, colleagues, family members and even potential employers.
Revenge porn is the distribution or publication of intimate material which was never meant to become public, in order to cause distress and harm.
The phenomenon has become increasingly common here, to such an extent that earlier this year, Dublin barrister Fergal Crehan set up a company to help victims remove the hugely sensitive material often uploaded by revengeful former lovers hell-bent on punishing them for ending a relationship.
Crehan became aware of the phenomenon in 2013 when a number of such cases were referred to him by solicitors in his capacity as a barrister with an interest in the area of privacy and data protection.
“It occurred to me that people were coming to me to such an extent that there might be a problem,” he recalls.
More cases came his way in 2014, some of which were so disturbing that he was prompted to set up The Hit Team.
One such case was that of a woman in her mid-to-late twenties: “This woman was a highly qualified professional working in an area where there were employment opportunities.” Although she’d applied for several high-end jobs for which she was well qualified, she never got call-backs.
Eventually, says Crehan, a savvy friend advised her to google herself. To her horror, the woman discovered that an intimate video she’d made with an ex-boyfriend years previously was online.
Her former partner had uploaded it to a porn website with her name attached.
“She didn’t know how long the video was up, but when I investigated I found several versions of this clip,” says Crehan who said there were several pages of hits for the video.
The ex was contacted and warned to take action — and three weeks later a google search came up clean.
Crehan has yet to meet a single male victim of Revenge Porn:
“In my experience it’s only women who have come to me. This trend is absolutely misogynistic.
“This is about shaming women. Every single one of the inquiries I received have been from women.”
Revenge porn is founded on misogyny, and a rape culture, says Cliona Saidléar, Acting Executive Director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland.
“It works against women because of the culture of shaming women in terms of sex and sexuality.
“This is happening in Ireland — it’s part of the conversation we have been having about social media and imagery,” says Saidléar, who reveals that the organisation has heard about everything from sharing intimate images taken by couples to uploading videos or a woman’s contact details and imagery onto a site for prostitution, or of sending material to an employer, family or acquaintances.
“The range is as broad as the imagination of the perpetrator. It is incredibly distressing for the victim, and can be terribly disruptive to both professional and business life.
“Considerable harm can be caused on the back of Revenge porn.”
The experience can be so devastating that some people will become fearful of engaging in new relationships, believes psychosexual therapist Eithne Bacuzzi, a counsellor with Relationships Ireland.
“When you engage in an intimate, close relationship and the trust this entails, you don’t expect this to happen and it can be personally catastrophic causing long-term emotional damage.
“It can result in a real fear of further commitment because it makes you question your own judgement — how could you get it so wrong?
”Exposing the most intimate side of a relationship is almost evil,” Bacuzzi says, adding that people shouldn’t allow a partner to video them.
“I feel girls should think about this and think about the feeling of being exposed,” she says, adding that the fear of not being cool or being seen as ‘not being up for fun’ can be a pressure.
Victims will need counselling as a result of the “sexual trauma” which results from experiencing the ordeal of revenge porn, believes psychologist PatriciaMurray:
“This is sexual trauma. There’s a massive feeling of having no control and no power, which has hugely negative outcomes for the individual.
“There will be a lot of people seeking psycho-sexual counselling and going to Rape Crisis Centres after entering into a voluntary sexual relationship where they were either filmed for private use and the material was later uploaded, or filmed without them knowing.”
Whatever the justification put forward for the recording of an intimate moment cautions romance guru and director of Dublin’s Intro Matchmaking agency, Rena Maycock, nobody should agree to it.
“Don’t put anything on digital media that you don’t want to wear on your forehead,” she warns.
“Remember, your reputation cannot be replaced. Revenge porn is a real invasion of privacy.
“It’s very easy to do, and in Ireland there are no real consequences. In this day and age people should know better than to put themselves in a vulnerable position like that.
“I have huge sympathy for people in this situation but they should know better.”
If, says Fergal Crehan, a woman does agree to videoing an intimate moment, she should ensure any material is stored solely on her equipment.
“The simplest thing is, that if you want to take intimate pictures or video make sure it’s stored on your phone, and only your phone. Also remember that every time you share something you multiply the number of copies.”
The Hit Team, Crehan explains, is essentially a privacy consultancy for people who have had what he terms “uninvited attention online” or where confidential information has been disseminated on the internet.
Much of what can be done for people in this plight is not necessarily legal work, he explains, adding that fighting it through courts is not only very expensive but can result in even more public attention, when what victims want is less.
“Most people just want the material taken down,” says Crehan, who says that when necessary The Hit Team hires solicitors. But in his capacity as a privacy consultant with The Hit Team, the work more often involves “contacting the social media network and giving an understanding of the route you must take through the different social media platforms.”
In most cases, he says, men do it because the opportunity is there and it’s so easy to do.
“Perhaps it’s seen as a bit of a prank when what they’re doing would be in other jurisdictions a sex crime.”
There’s no justification for it he declares. “It seems to me the reaction is so disproportionate that you might as well not ask for a reason.”
Unfortunately although England has introduced legislation outlawing the publication of intimate material without the consent of the people portrayed, this hasn’t as yet happened in Ireland.
“It is not a crime of any kind here although there are pieces of legislation you can rely on for help to get this kind of material taken down,” explains Crehan.
“There is probably a case for a specific criminal offence along the lines of England but I also think there must also be structure for the immediate removal of such material.
However, he says, over the past six to nine months several social media outlets have introduced changes to their terms and conditions which enable victims to have objectionable material removed more quickly.
“I think what you need is change to how people need to understand what might seem like a bit of fun to them has very serious consequences for the victim.
“We need education around peoples’ rights online. This needs to be done at primary school level because it’s naive to think kids of nine or 10 are not more computer literate than their parents.”
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