Copyrighting the body 

Beatrice Murray-Nag

An investigation into the revenge porn industry...

I feel like I’ve been abused 30,000 times.

The spine-chilling words of one revenge porn victim. She pains an insidious picture of the fear, humiliation and violation experienced when her private photographs were leaked online, exposing her body to thousands of strangers. It was an act of vengeance. An angry ex-lover; a breach of trust.

I can make money out of titties and f**king people over.

The words of Hunter Moore, the recently jailed founder of one of the Internet’s most popular revenge porn platforms. His website generated 30 million hits a month, from publishing unauthorised, sexually explicit images of women – sent in trust, submitted in revenge. The Internet’s most hated man,

I’d tie her to my bed and rape her. 

A comment from just one of the trolls that scour such revenge porn sites. They hide behind their keyboards, abusing the naked victims, threatening violent sexual action.

It’s a twisted, sadistic circle.

46% percent of people have sent explicit photos of themselves to a partner, in confidentiality. They were meant for a loved ones eyes, not for the world. Yet due to one of the most basic human instincts, a desire for revenge, these photos have been used to humiliate ex-partners, exposing them to the world. The majority of victims are females. Men try to regain control, objectifying women and making them subject to public humiliation.

This is not a new concept. Publishing unauthorized images of women submitted by ex-lovers was first coined in the eighties, when Hustler magazine began their Beaver Hunt column. Crude as its name, the section published explicit images of women with their names, hobbies and sexual fantasies.

Yet we are engulfed in an everlasting whirlwind of technological development, and the danger of revenge porn thickens. Whilst it was unlikely for readers to pick up a pair of scissors and cut out the article for safe keeping, images are now increasingly permanent, and their exposure is no longer kept within the confines of print.

Publicity goes deeper than Facebook; the global phenomenon extends far beyond the clutches of social media. There are estimated 3000 sites sets up specifically for the vengeful to post perspicuous pictures of their former-flames. The incarceration of Hunter Moore is just the tip of a very cold, cruel iceberg.

It’s not just about bodies. Alongside risqué photos, personal details are submitted and published on the sites. Names, interests, the university attended, the course studied, email addresses and even links to social media accounts are available to the world. Anonymity is exploited completely, making victims vulnerable to stalking, and easily found by employers. Humiliation is just a Google search away.

Isn’t it illegal? Yes and no. A new law established in April 2015 infringes the act of sharing unauthorized images in an act of vengeance. However, it is within the law to run a website as a platform of humiliation. Owners of such sites are legally protected against liability from user-generated content. So as long as they are not sharing the pictures themselves, they cannot be prosecuted. Moore was only brought to justice under allegations of identity theft for hacking email accounts to leak nude photos.

Are we no longer able to store a photograph without fearing that the world can access it? To what extent do we own our own bodies anymore, when such exposure industries exist? The copyright of a photo belongs to its taker not its subject. This empowers the selfie, as control begins to weaken when others take our photograph, and ownership of your own naked body can be called into question. Nonetheless, ownership is disregarded by the vengeful, and removing photos due to allegations of copyright infringement is a drawn-out process.

You shouldn’t have taken it in the first place if you didn’t want people to see it.

In an era where private images can be so easily obtained without consent, trust, privacy and blame are called into question.

We cannot indulge ourselves in victim blame.

When almost half of us take explicit photos, we cannot blame the unfortunate few whose privacy is breached. So long as we live in a sexist culture of slut shaming, the revenge porn industry will flourish.

Dirty b*tch

The way out of this heinous circle of shame is to stop our stigma against female sexual liberation. Our mindset must grow with technology, and as it becomes harder to protect our naked bodies, so must we become more accepting of them. Yes, revenge porn is a cruel concept, but it is fuelled by our judgment. Sex is a base human desire, and revenge porn plays on our discernment of those who express it. Until, as a society, we stop stigmatizing sexual liberation, no law will let us fully regain power over our exploiters.

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© Helicon Magazine 2019

University of Bristol