The VICE Channels

People Are Terrifyingly OK with Revenge Porn, New Study Finds

Mar 3 2017 9:00 PM
People Are Terrifyingly OK with Revenge Porn, New Study Finds

Photo by Lumina via Stocksy

During a survey attempting to examine personality traits that might predispose someone to make or distribute revenge porn, researchers were shocked to discover how few people disapproved of this form of online harassment.

In a new study published in the International Journal of Technoethics, researchers found that not enough people realize revenge porn is a real problem.

Psychologists out of Kent University in the UK realized the need to better understand the personality characteristics of those who participate in or endorse revenge porn. Doing so, they wrote in their March 3 study, could help reduce the prevalence of this crime. According to a report that came out last year, one in 25 Americans say they've been a victim of revenge porn.

Watch now: Inside the Torturous Fight to End Revenge Porn

Before conducting their experiment, the team of researchers identified potential factors that might make a person more likely to engage in revenge porn. They hypothesized that having sexist beliefs; what's known as the Dark Triad of socially averse traits, which includes machiavellianism, psychopathy and narcissism; and sadistic tendencies would be significantly related to revenge porn proclivity.

One hundred people who were 18 years old and older participated in the study. They first took a series of personality assessments. Afterward, they were given a test to measure their propensity to publish a nude photo of their partner online without their consent. This test involved reading five scenarios in which they were the central character, all of which concluded with an act of revenge porn; each participant was then asked how likely they'd be to do the same, on a scale of one (definitely would not do the same) to five (definitely would do the same). They also were asked if they felt excitement, control, blame, amusement, anger, and/or regret about the actions exhibited in the anecdotes.

Only 28.6 percent of participants presented at least some proclivity to perpetrating revenge porn. But, the study's authors write, "[a] more staggering finding was that a majority of participants" expressed at least some enjoyment (87 percent) and approval (99 percent) of revenge porn. "This disparity suggests that whilst participants may be unlikely to commit an act of revenge porn themselves, they present an acceptance of this behavior we now know is frequently occurring online."

As far as the study's goal to correlate personality characteristics to revenge porn proclivity, researchers confirmed that higher levels of sexism, machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy suggested a greater likelihood to perpetrate revenge porn. While psychopathy was the only trait to independently predict greater revenge porn proclivity, sadistic tendencies was not found to be a factor at all.

When the online community or 'bystanders' do not recognize something as serious, it becomes harder for victims to come forward and report it.

The takeaway here, says Afroditi Pina, a senior lecturer in forensic psychology at Kent University and lead author on the study, is that people who reported being more likely to engage in and accept revenge porn also exhibited a general lack of empathy and were more accepting of callous and impulsive behavior. "This has implications for the personality elements that one needs to target in future interventions and campaigns—not only with men but with women, too," she tells Broadly.

An unanticipated limitation in the study, the researchers note, was that the gender ratio of participants was skewed: 82 of the 100 were female. This offered an interesting twist on the results, however, since research has shown women are largely the victims of revenge porn.

"I think this can be partly explained by the fact that these behaviors may be more prevalent than we think and also because some people in our sample attribute blame to the victims for sending the images to the perpetrators in the first place," Pina says. "People do things in an intimate setting, not thinking that their loved ones could use those things against them at the breakdown of that relationship. That still doesn't give the perpetrators the right to post these images without consent."

Their findings also revealed "a difficulty in appreciating the wrongfulness" of revenge porn, Pina says. "The results showed that, for the majority, there were at least some elements of finding the situation exciting or funny. When the online community or 'bystanders' do not recognize something as serious, it becomes harder for victims to come forward and report it as well as to challenge these behaviors and stop them from wide dissemination."

"Victims need to feel supported and believed by the online and offline community as a whole," she continues, "if we are to tackle this issue and get a true picture of its prevalence

Until recently, research into revenge porn perpetration has been lacking because it hadn't been properly defined or criminalized, Pina explains. "This is the first step in a line of research from our lab, and because of the small sample, caution should be applied when generalizing. We are working on replications as we speak and will hopefully have more data to corroborate these findings."

More from VICE

The Latest