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One in 25 Americans Say They’ve Been a Victim of Revenge Porn

Dec 14 2016 8:16 PM
One in 25 Americans Say They’ve Been a Victim of Revenge Porn

Photo by RG&B Images via Stocksy

While the issue is widespread, young women and gay, lesbian, and bisexual people face a greater chance of being publicly exposed online.

Thanks to The Fappening and other celebrity nude image leaks, nonconsensual image sharing, or revenge porn, has made headlines for years. But a new report released Tuesday by the Data & Society Research Institute and the Center for Innovative Public Health Research offers the first national statistics on the prevalence of revenge porn.

After interviewing more than 3,000 American Internet users ages 15 and older in a phone survey, researchers found that one in 25 Americans has either been threatened with or actually had an explicit image shared online. "Roughly 3 percent of all online Americans have had someone threaten to post nude or nearly nude photos or videos of them online to hurt or embarrass them," the report's authors write, "and 2 percent of online Americans have had someone actually post a photo of them online without their permission."

Unsurprisingly, researchers found that young women were more likely to be threatened with the possibility of having an explicit photo shared online: "One in 10 women under the age of 30 have experienced threats of nonconsensual image sharing, a much higher rate than either older women or older and younger men," they write. But in terms of having photos actually published, men and women had similar rates of exposure.

Read more: Inside the Torturous Fight to End Revenge Porn

Amanda Lenhart, a researcher at Data & Society and lead author of the report, says they were surprised to discover the relatively even balance of men and women having nude photos or videos published online without their consent. When she and her team took on the topic, she tells Broadly, they weren't sure they'd even find enough people in their sample who'd had such an experience. When they did, she says, that made an impact. Additionally, she admits, "I think we expected it to be more heavily weighted towards women, but it is something men experience as well. Our data does surface that and shows it's something we need to talk about."

The report also highlights the fact that those who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual also face a greater chance of being publicly exposed online: 17 percent of queer respondents had someone threaten to or actually share an explicit image of them, compared to four percent of their heterosexual counterparts.

Photo by Guille Faingold via Stocksy

Whether photos are published by a former lover or an anonymous hacker, the consequences are the same, the report notes. In addition to causing humiliation and invading another person's privacy, the authors explain, "[t]hese images are often posted alongside personally-identifying information about the victim when they are posted in online spaces, which can lead to additional harassment and threats from third parties. Even if the images are never actually posted publicly, the perpetrator may use threats to post such images as a method of controlling or intimidating the victim."

Thirty-four states have laws on the books against revenge porn, the Washington Post reported. The problem is often getting law enforcement to take victims seriously. "Law enforcement is playing catch-up on both training about the law and technology," University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron told the Post. "When victims go to law enforcement, the response is commonly to say that nothing can be done."

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Lenhart says their work to quantify this experience was aimed at both providing those who work with victims with accurate data as well as helping to illustrate to others that revenge porn is a real problem.

Lenhart explains just how destructive and life-altering revenge porn can be for victims: Not only can it harm reputations, but it can also get in the way of employment and education opportunities. "Even though I think we might want to think we're a society that's beyond shaming women and men for their bodies and for sexual activities, we still are a society where that's humiliating to people. We need to acknowledge ... that people who have these images shared are legitimately, specifically, personally, professionally, and financially harmed by this experience."

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