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revengepornarticle

Originally posted on Everyday Feminism under the name “Taking a Stand against Revenge Porn and Internet Exploitation in the Digital Age”

Revenge porn. Never heard of it? You probably will soon.

This new Internet craze, specifically focused on women, occurs when a person shares a sexual or nude photo or video with a partner or hookup who later decides to make the private photo public.

Promises that the photo will be kept private often disintegrate with time, especially after a breakup or falling out. But the lasting negative effects on a victim of revenge porn– not to mention the extreme difficulties of removing photos once they have hit the net – make this phenomenon a horrifying prospect for anyone who has ever taken sexy pictures for a significant other.

And in most places, it’s perfectly legal.

You read that right. Revenge porn (also known as non-consensual pornography or cyber rape) is legal in every state except California and New Jersey.

University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks is trying to change this by helping states write laws against revenge porn.

To naysayers who prefer to victim blame, Franks compares sharing pornographic material to making a business transaction.

“If you give your credit card to a waiter, you aren’t giving him permission to buy a yacht,” says Franks.

Sending sexual or nude photos to another person does not give them the right to share what they’ve received on a public forum such as the Internet – especially within the context of trust and under an agreement that the photos will be kept private.

Now, profiteers have even discovered a way to make revenge porn profitable. Many popular revenge porn sites, such as MyEx.Com – a website that boasts the tagline “Get Revenge! Naked Pics of Your Ex” – offers victims with a “take-down” option.

Pay up, and the site will remove your photos.

And prices are steep.

MyEx.Com has an option to “Remove My Name” which takes you to the payment site “Reputation Guard” and demands $500 for the deletion of photos and personal information from MyEx.

Simply put, this is blackmail. MyEx.Com is working along with Reputation Guard to extort money from victims of internet exploitation – and no one is stopping them.

Moreover, paying $500 will only ensure that the photos are removed from the MyEx site. Everyone knows that once a picture is on the Internet, it is there to stay.

Reputation Guard has no authority to remove the exact same photos and personal information from the possibly hundreds of other low-life websites or personal blogs on which they have ended up.

Sometimes revenge porn doesn’t include personal information or naked photos – but it can still be damaging. I know – from personal experience.

A few summers ago, on the way home from a fantastic beach vacation with a group of close friends, I got a call that broke my heart.

It was my best friend calling to tell me that pictures of me had surfaced on AutoAdmit.com, a site for Internet trolls working in the law profession or attending law school with the laughable motto “The most prestigious law school discussion board in the world.”

The pictures were all taken directly from my Facebook albums. My name wasn’t included, and the photo locations ranged from formal events to cab rides to mini golf.

We quickly discovered that I wasn’t the only victim – my friend had a page of her own. This man, whoever he was, had pilfered about thirty photos of us from our Facebook profiles and written dehumanizing and scary descriptions of the sexual things he planned to do to us.

He even claimed to be close to having a threesome with us – an utterly inexplicable lie. About eighty of his site cronies then chimed in with comments so vile that I have spent years trying to forget them.

No nudity, no personal contact info, and no names were shared. And yet I felt utterly and completely violated. I wanted the photos down, and I wanted them down now.

However, AutoAdmit (like many revenge porn sites) is unmonitored and unstaffed. It is a forum for women-bashing and body-shaming by faceless trolls sitting behind computer screens.

So what can be done in these types of situations?

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many options – yet. But let’s look at the ones that do we have.

Contact the Photo Hosting Service

First, get your photos taken down if you can.

In my case, my friend and I realized that our photos were being hosted on imgur.com, so we wrote to the photo editor of imgur through their Removal Request option and demanded their deletion.

It worked. The photos were down within forty-eight hours.

Photo hosting websites like imgur are looking to avoid lawsuits. They are not as interested in protecting the creeps who post revenge pictures as they are of not being sued.

Be firm, be forceful, and threaten legal action. This is the easiest way to get your photos removed from a public image hosting site.

But what about sites like MyEx where the photos are hosted internally?

Although revenge porn itself is not yet illegal in most places, there are legal guidelines concerning ownership of photos.

A recent survey discloses that 80% of revenge porn victims took the pictures in question themselves – giving them the legal rights to those photos.

Under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998 (DCMA), victims can submit a DMCA take-down request to offending websites that are using their photos without consent.

Rights protection group DMCA Defender provides relatively low-cost services to victims who want help submitting a claim.

While these are viable options, they are only marginally successful at removing images, and do nothing to punish the criminals behind online sexual harassment. So what more can we do?

We need to go further. We need to change the law.

Making Revenge Porn Illegal

When Annmarie Chiarini, a Maryland college professor and victim of an immense revenge porn battle that nearly ended her career and brought her close to taking her own life, went to the police with evidence that her ex-boyfriend had posted and sold naked photos of her online, the police shrugged her away.

There was nothing they could do because no crime had been committed, they said.

Similarly, advocacy group End Revenge Porn creator Dr. Holly Jacobs suffered three-and-a-half years of unrelenting fallout when police failed to prosecute her ex-boyfriend for posting her personal data and photos online.

Now women like Jacobs and Chiarini are fighting back hard to make revenge porn unlawful. They are working around the clock to get bills passed in states nationwide that will make this type of online sexual harassment illegal and create real consequences for perpetrators.

The fact that revenge porn can have deadly consequences also lends great credibility to the idea of making it a crime. Releasing a victim’s image, hometown, full name, age, and occupation can lead to stalking and physical endangerment. It can also lead to deep emotional distress and even victim suicide.

Other groups leading the fight in the US include the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, Without My Consent, Army of She, Women Against Revenge Porn, and Bullyville. These sites provide fantastic resources that help victims join the fight to make revenge porn illegal.

Seek Mental and Emotional Support

The number of suicides linked to online sexual exploitation and revenge porn has skyrocketed in recent years.

Many arise from online harassment following a sexual assault, such as in the case of California teen Audrie Potts, who hung herself after photos of her rape were distributed online.

Others come from shame brought on by revenge porn.

Such is the case of Amanda Todd, who committed suicide after facing unending torment from school bullies over topless photos that she was pressured to send to an older man. She was in the seventh grade when she sent the photos and fifteen when she ended her life.

Revenge porn and Internet sexual harassment seek to demoralize, debase, and shame women on social, sexual, and professional levels. They are deeply painful and effective ways of making victims feel alienated, unloved, and even worthless.

Finding a psychologist or therapist who can help you navigate through the negativity is a key step to overcoming the pain induced by internet sexual harassment.

If you or someone you know begins to feel suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which provides a 24-hour hotline (1-800-273-TALK) and a therapy finder by geographical region. Using the therapy finder, you can search for licensed mental health professionals, support groups, government services, and more.

Reach out to your family and friends as well. They can provide you with a strong backbone of support in times of need.

If you don’t feel like you have anyone to turn to, a support/survivor group can also provide you with comfort and understanding. Check the websites of local sexual abuse agencies for more resources, or visit the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) site to search for other options.

Remember: This is Rape Culture, Not Normality

Our culture prefers to blame the victim in situations like these, saying “Why did she send this photo?” or “She got what was coming to her for being careless/slutty/sexual.”

As should be painfully obvious, and as Professor Franks demonstrates in a recent Cosmopolitan article, this is rape culture at work:

“When we say, ‘What was she doing giving out this picture?’ what we’re really saying is if you’re sexual with one person, society is entitled to treat you as sexual for all purposes,” Franks states.

“We’re telling women and girls that revenge porn is justified punishment for giving a sexy picture to a trusted partner, and that’s exactly the same thing as telling women and girls that rape is justified punishment for drinking or wearing a short skirt.”

So before you start apologizing about sending a sexy photo, think.

You are an adult. You are free to do what you want with your body (within legal boundaries). No one can tell you that you deserve to be publicly humiliated and have your trust violated because you are a sexual person. Remember that.

That said, there are undeniable risks involved with sending sexual photos to another person. Once a picture is given to someone else – whether your spouse, a friend, or a casual hookup – it is out of your immediate control.

Even if made illegal everywhere, the Internet is a big place. People will still find ways to get away with online sexual harassment and revenge porn.

But hopefully making it a crime will make it harder for them.

With prospective bills to make revenge porn and other forms of sexual Internet harassment illegal in New York and other places nationwide, the future looks a little bit brighter.

In the meantime, education about revenge porn is crucial.

***

The more people that know about this phenomenon and how to stop it, the harder it will be for creeps to get away with. And hopefully, it will become less common and accepted as people realize that it has dangerous results.

It’s just one more battle in the war against rape culture, but it’s one that we can all take part in by calling this exploitation out, educating people about why it’s not okay, and working towards making it illegal. Claim your rights.

Protect yourself. You are worth it.

Scale

Cross-posted from my article co-written with Melissa A. Fabello for Everyday Feminism

Do you ever feel like thoughts about food and weight are starting to control your life? Do you believe that if you eat certain types of “bad” food that you need to punish or purge yourself by not eating later or exercising in excess to make up for it?

Has your obsession with weight and food become so all-encompassing that your quality of life has started to decrease? Do you feel hopeless and misunderstood when people tell you to “just eat right and exercise moderately?”

Do you become agitated and flippant when loved ones insinuate that you might have a problem? Are you worried that they might try to sabotage your weight loss plan?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you may have already begun asking yourself if you have an eating disorder.

And the truth is that it can be downright scary to look down that path.

Part of why we feel so scared to get help for having an eating disorder – to admit it to ourselves, to talk to other people about it, and to get professional help – is that there is a stigma around it.

Because like this article on eating disorder stigma points out, “If I caught the flu, I’d tell my doctor, take medicine, drink some ginger ale, and stay in bed. When I had anorexia nervosa, I didn’t tell my doctor because I was too ashamed to tell a medical professional that I had a medical condition that needed medicine and physical and mental treatment.”

We can’t let that stigma stop us from getting the help that we need.

Breaking down that first barrier is a difficult thing, but it’s an important step.

So let’s explore, together, what eating disorders are and how to get help for them.

Eating Disorders 101

Eating disorders are widespread in our thin-obsessed society, but regularly ignored and downplayed, which make them very dangerous, both emotionally and physically.

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) tells us that disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosas and binge eating disorder consist of extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food – and can have life-threatening consequences.

Because they are complex mental illnesses that come with an array of psychological, sociological, and physiological factors, eating disorders (also known as ED’s) are more difficult to treat than many other illnesses.

And contrary to popular belief, they also don’t discriminate. They can be found across all races, genders, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

You can learn a lot about how to spot an eating disorder in yourself or in a friend by doing research and behavior analysis. What is harder to learn through solitary research is how to actually deal with having an eating disorder on a daily basis – and more importantly, how to recover from one.

You’ve Established That You Have an Eating Disorder – What’s Next?

Admitting to yourself that you have an ED and that you want to get better can be extremely challenging, but is absolutely necessary for long-term recovery.

And if you’ve gotten to that point – which might even be why you chose to read this article – we want to congratulate you.

It takes a lot of strength to get to a point with body image and eating issues where you’re brave enough not only to admit that you might have a problem, but that you want to seek out more information and even help.

It’s amazing to come forward like that.

But even figuring out whether or not your thoughts and behaviors qualify as disordered can be hard to establish.

Amazingly, NEDA has recently come out with an online screening process to see if one’s experiences are in line with the symptoms of an eating disorder. You can check it out here.

Answer the questions, and see what the results tell you. Keep in mind, though, that even if the results say it doesn’t sound like you’re suffering from an eating disorder, it’s still worth talking about getting help for the issues that are being experienced.

So if you’re at the point where you’ve accepted that you might have an eating disorder and are ready to seek help, there are a number of ways to begin your path to recovery.

Different approaches work for different people, so keep an open mind when reviewing your options.

See a Doctor or Nutritionist

Seeing a doctor or a nutrition specialist can be a great first step.

These professionals can tell you exactly what vital nutrients are missing from your everyday life, how that is affecting you, and how to work them back into your diet. They can also help you figure out ways to fuel your body in a healthy way, without feeling sluggish.

It’s important to remember that doctors are there to help you be a happier, healthier person, not to judge or shame you. If you fear that a medical professional will make you feel worse – or if you experience this – know that you can always choose to see another doctor.

See a doctor who will validate your experience and offer you resources and options.

This type of basic medical intervention can help people with ED’s realize the ways in which they are damaging their bodies and help them move towards a healthier lifestyle.

Seek Therapy Options

Therapy can often be an important part of recovery as well.

Therapists who have trained specifically to help their patients deal with and overcome eating disorders are usually the best choice.

Find out what is covered on your health insurance plan, and look for recommendations from previous patients. A good therapist who understands eating disorders could mean a world of difference.

Even if you don’t have health insurance, you have options. Many mental health programs nationwide offer therapy services at little or no charge. They just take some researching to find. Call or visit your local Department of Public Welfare for more information.

And remember that you can also talk to a counselor at school or another community organization.

Explain your situation. Let them know what kinds of thoughts and behaviors you’re experiencing and what your fears are.

Join a Support Group

Talking to survivors of eating disorders in a group setting can be helpful for those trying to get better.

For some, an online support group may feel less intimidating, and there are a lot of recovery-specific blogs out there to help you build community, to feel less alone, and to feel inspired, given what other people are going through.

If you’re not sure where to start, try Recovery Is BeautifulLife Without ED, and The Love Yourself Challenge on Tumblr. They offer posts to boost positivity, facts about eating disorders and other mental illnesses, tips and tricks for dealing with fears, and also help and support if you want to write in.

If Tumblr isn’t your thing and you’d rather explore YouTube for community and inspiration, check out Arielle Lee Bair and her channel Actively Arielle: A Voice with a Commitment here. She’s an eating disorder survivor and specialist who posts weekly videos about prevention and recovery.

But remember that there are also a number of real-life, in-person groups that meet across the country. With the support of a larger community, a person suffering from an eating disorder can hear testimonial from people in recovery as well as from others currently in their position.

Not sure how to find a group? The Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness has a helpful directory of support groups to choose from. Other useful resources include Eating Disorders Anonymous and ANAD (which includes a state-by-state listing of support groups).

Try attending a meeting, whether in person or online. If it doesn’t work for you, try a different group – or choose to decide that group therapy isn’t for you.

Remember that recovery varies for every person, so what worked for a friend may not work the same way for you.

Consider Medication

For some people, taking an anti-depressant or other mood-stabilizing medication can be incredibly helpful when dealing with an eating disorder – especially when combined with psychological counseling.

Anti-depressants can help reduce anxiety, obsessive thoughts, and depression in eating disorder patients; they can even reduce physical symptoms such as binge eating and vomiting. Talk to your doctor about anti-depressants to find out more about your options.

In some cases, other medications may be necessary to help deal with the health consequences of eating disorders – make sure to tell your doctor about all of symptoms you are experiencing so that they can make an educated decision.

Create and Educate a Support System of Family and Friends

Educate your family and friends about the disorder that you are struggling with, so they know how to support you during – and beyond – your recovery.

Simple online toolkits, such as this one from NEDIC, can be a good place for relatives and friends to start. By learning about eating disorders, they will be better equipped to help you during your journey and can become more aware of societal triggers that might make things more difficult.

While it can be scary for your loved ones to hear that you are suffering from an eating disorder, starting an honest dialogue about the issue will be beneficial to everyone involved and help you feel less alone.

Let your support network know that you recognize that you need help, are ready to actively find it, and would like their educated support while you do so.

Be Forgiving of Yourself – and Have a Plan

There may be times during the recovery process that you feel yourself backslide. This is normal, and it is okay.

Making sure that you have a contingency plan for such times will help. This plan might include multiple key players such as members of your family and friend group, your therapist, ED survivors from a support group online or in your community, and anyone else who is willing to put in the time and effort to help you resist relapse.

It’s comforting to know that people are there for you if you feel yourself slipping back into old habits. And having a plan to deal with a setback can make a hopeless-feeling situation much brighter.

—-

There was a period when we couldn’t see the light at the end of our ED tunnels. But with time and effort, our support systems and individual determinations helped us reach a healthy, happy place.

Remember – just because you are struggling with an eating disorder right now doesn’t mean that the feelings of hopelessness and depression will last forever.

With the right amount of support, hard work and determination, you can live a normal life again.

The most important thing is understanding that regardless of the specifics of your situation, if you feel like you need help, then you deserve to get help.

So figure out what kind of help that you think that you need, and go forth with the confidence to seek it out.

You’ve already done the hard part.