For many of us 2020 will be far removed from the year that we might have hoped for.
The Covid-19 crisis has unveiled some of the best, and worst aspects of human nature. We’ve seen the number of reported cases of image abuse double, as we’ve taken to our gadgets to seek connections via dating applications, like Scruff, Grindr or Tinder.
We’ve even turned to webcam sites like Zoom, as we’ve searched for virtual sex experiences and sometimes, on the other side of those applications, we’ve had predators who have exploited another unsuspecting victim by sharing their images without their knowledge or consent
Back in 2016 I was one of those unsuspecting victims, lured into a situation where so many aspects of my life were exposed in a heinous criminal act where I was secretly webcam streamed using drugs, and having sex, with the same predator who recorded and uploaded that content. He did so without my permission, and with a blatant disregard for my life and privacy.
Taking nude photos isn’t a crime, it is most definitely without a doubt the sharing of sexual images without your consent that is the crime. Why cant others understand this. I talk through the mouth of someone who has and for others whom have also experienced Image Based Sexual Abuse (Revenge Porn) and quite frankly I am tired of trying to make sense out of nonsense, although for my sins I will continue to try in order to bring about change.
Current UK law states:
You need to prove intent – so what the law is technically saying is that someone who shares an explicit or sexual image of you without your consent has done so for a laugh! Oh sorry your honour I did it for the fun of it.
To prove the sharing of the explicit or sexual image without consent was done so to cause distress and harm – forgive me if I am stupid but who the hell would not be affected emotionally and mentally if an explicit sexual image of them was shared for all and sundry to see and comment on?
The current UK law doesn’t automatically give experiencers (victims) the right of ‘anonymity’ which is why in most cases your entire experience is continually perpetrated by the media and social platforms. This to me only perpetuates the continuous cycle of distress and harm (photo ‘Emotional Turmoil’) and possibly on a wider platform, as we all know sex sells and feeds the minds of the uneducated.
The local newspaper in my town printed my name, how many times my images were viewed on the internet (around 48,000 or there about’s) and they also had online visibility!
Is there then no wonder that public inquisitivity then thought it was okay to then repost, reshare and look for those images on different platforms that then caused further stress – by the way all of this could have been avoided if those that initiated the current ‘Revenge Porn Law’ thought about repercussions for the experiener (victim), instead of ensuring the perpetrator was protected.
I have worked with the Law Commission on Phase 1 of their review on current sexual related crimes and whether they are fit for purpose – it will be interesting to see what happens in Phase 2 – which will be taking place very shortly.
It’s time to change the narrative – let us see how seriously the concerns and views of experiencers (victims), researchers and campaigners for change are taken on board when undertaking the review. I will not rest until I see ‘proper productive, informative, constructive change’…..
That moment when you feel proud of your achievements as you watch someone you have supported stand up and speak their truths in front of complete strangers.
It’s been a long journey and one that has felt really lonely as well as doubting your ability to make a difference and yet still there I was sitting next to David Canham as he spoke so openly and emotionally about his experience of being violated, shamed and broken down to the core of the non-consensual sharing of intimate sexual images of him at the Love, Death & Taxes event organised by Mishcon de Reya LLP and the Gay Women’s Network on the 23rd October 2019.
David’s story mirrors mine and many other experiencers regarding the long-term emotional turmoil that follows the experience and the long-term rehabilitation of self thereafter. I felt overwhelmed by the experience of being able to support another where this wasn’t available to me 5 years ago. I felt accomplished, proud, tearful but humbled at the same time but most of all it felt right.
I found out like many others who attended the event the depth of the intricate layers that the LGBTQ community has. David shared very deep personal attributes to his experience which highlighted the use of drugs within the LGBTQ community and trust me this is only one layer or many. It is clear that there is a need for signposting and general emotional support but there is also much more that needs to be done, to understand the layers in order to ascertain the support that is needed. The event for me as the founder of VOIC was to connect with those within the LGBTQ community that can help to make a difference. To help break barriers, stereotypes and acknowledge that Image Based Sexual Abuse (Revenge Porn) happens in all communities and that they are not immune.
Throughout my journey I have always said that I’ve found it hard at times as a woman; more to the point a Black woman speaking openly about my experience although at the time I felt this was my only option to try and make sense of what happened and used it as a coping mechanism to taking back my power. I have always said that speaking out will be hard for a male to follow suite.
On the 23rd October 2019, David Canham spoke his truths and made a difference not only to him but also to me and all the other people that attentively and emotionally listened to what was said. It was humbling. David’s personal thoughts about the event can be viewed here. The other panel members Professor Erika Rackley (Law School, Kent University) and Sophie Mortimer (Manager, Revenge Porn Helpline) both complemented David’s personal journey and reiterated the need for the LGBTQ community to speak out about Image Based Sexual Abuse, they both made referenced the gaps in services specifically catering for that community and the importance of raising awareness.
You know, there are so many social norms that are unacceptable and I commend David for holding his own and taking that step to stand up and speak out. The LGBTQ community is one of many marginalised and hard to reach communities that have lots of intricate layers. We need a breakthrough in order to get to the nitty gritty of the impact, experience, doubt, non-acceptance of image based sexual abuse before we can educate and signpost.
I aim to make a difference with those that took the time to connect with myself and David at the event, as I am a great believer that together ‘we can make a difference’.
The 1 July 2019 was a truly momentous and memorable day as it saw the launch of a very significant and pertinent report/research.
Shattering Lives and Myths – A Report on Image Based Sexual Abuse
This very detailed and inclusive report was undertaken by Prof Clare McGlynn, Durham University, Prof Erika Rackley, University of Kent & Asst Prof Kelly Johnson, Durham University. It highlighted all the key recommendations to Parliament in respect of the changes to the current law provision that need to be put in place in relation to online sexual abuse and sharing of explicit content without consent (a form of abuse).
The lead up to the launch was for me as usual busy with media requests, which honestly has been a part of my journey for the last 5 years. There have been so many occasions when I have ‘swore, screamed and cried’ at some of the outcomes of interviews but the interview done with Channel 5 News captured exactly how it should be done.
It’s about time the laws reflected the voice of the victim and not the actions of the perpetrator/accused. I am ready for change and will continue working collaboratively with those who share the same vision and finding creative ways of:
Challenging and changing perceptions/expectations of how this crime is viewed, dissected, portrayed and sensationalized
The launch was held in the House of Parliament and chaired by Maria Miller MP; attendees was a mixture of activists, support charities and victims. The questions that arose from the launch were challenging with many positive acknowledgments to the proposed changes.
There where powerful expressive emotional journey talks by others who have also experienced the cruel and disheartening crime of their sexual images being shared without consent. Listening to the impact it had on their lives brought ‘tears to mine’ it reminded me of mine and many that I have had the opportunity to support through their journey. Although saying this I was also ‘inspired’ by their fire and motivation to take back their power and to stand in a public and talk their truths.
I wrote this a few months ago and thought I would share it. The emotions are real!
Calming voices talk to me at night, when my eyes are closed I wander to a place where I no longer feel alone.
I stumble upon a pasture that was once green with life, whittling away dying from the cause of mindless people. You know, those people that make the world seem such a cruel place.
As I knelt amongst the pasture, I lay my head and cried because I also felt like I was whittling away and dying. I became slumped in a place where life seemed to be dark and lonely.
I close my eyes and the calming voices appear once again. I listen intentively and start to write mental notes but the tears kept on coming. The calming voices became louder to a volume where I had no choice but to listen.
Dried up tears turn to smiles and as I open my eyes and inhale, the pasture that was once whittling and dying now green with life and purpose, I no longer feel alone.
I feel safe but now know that the pasture and I have commonality and that time, patience, empathy, love and compassion will enable trust to build as the bond grows stronger.
Those calming voices I heard when my eyes closed at night and started to get louder until i had no choice but to listen, no longer just happened at night; they became my reality and I no longer feel alone
The moment you walk into a room, you feel exposed but you feel safe!
Today Saturday 13 May 2017, I felt like a huge bolder had been removed from my shoulders; a knott removed from the blades between my neck and my arms, that feeling of an object being stuck in your throat and you cough or swallow and it disappears. That’s how I felt during and after the Digital Online Abuse – A Collaboration between Activists, Victims and Artists.
At last! I am surrounded by energetic souls empowered to make a change, buzzing with energy and exhuberated creativity that filled the whole room. I smiled, I was energised and my spirit alive. It has been a long journey – one that has taken 3 years in the making, to sit in a room of souls and listen to how there experience was similar to mine; a room full of empathy and understanding. We had a common objective and a common understanding and all without judgement. Ears intentively listening, eyebrows raised we all absorbed the energy that surrounded the table.
At last! I feel I have done what I originally set out to do. To make a difference, to empower others to take control and take ownership to self empower, find self worth and motivation to make a change. We shared, we laughed, we cried – so much absorbed energy that I feel overwhelmed but very emotionally drained. We discussed common experiences, common understanding, we debated, we changed perceptions, we ate together and we talked about intimate things, like the vagina, the difference between male and female experiences, how we are all individuals that share commonality. I felt safe, i felt loved, i felt inspired!
Image Based Sexual Abuse (IBSA)/Non-Consensual Image sharing was most definitely the subject of the day; the reason for the collaborative artistical entwinement of ideas that I know will provide that place for healing through a collective creative approach. Im buzzing and ready for the next step…..!
If we could all speak out verbally about the way we feel, the hurt we have gone through, the trauma being abused brings and the betrayal that you feel, knowing you let someone do this to you! Imagine, there are many victims who want to speak out but don’t know how; to find the courage, the belief or the strength to do so.
‘How powerful would it be if we could all speak out verbally’
I dedicate this post to those victims, that cannot express themselves verbally like I do. For those who are struggling, to ‘live happy lives’ because the affects of image based sexual abuse, has ‘stripped their spiritual soul’ and they have been thrown into a world of depression, unworthiness, disgust, fear, anger, disgrace and despair.
I agree that victims should be given a choice whether to remain anonymous or be seen in the public eye
By Sarah Bell Victoria Derbyshire programme: 15 December 2015
Victims of “revenge porn” should be given the same anonymity as victims of other sexual offences, campaigners say. A petition urging a change in law has been launched by the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, Julia Mulligan, and a revenge-porn victim. Keeley Richards-Shaw, whose ex-boyfriend was the first sentenced under the revenge-porn law, said media coverage had increased her distress.
The Ministry of Justice said judges had discretionary powers to withhold names. Sharing revenge-porn images and videos became a crime in England and Wales in February, but the law currently gives victims no right to anonymity.
Mrs Mulligan and Ms Richards-Shaw have written to Justice Secretary Michael Gove and the chairman of the Justice Select Committee, Bob O’Neill, requesting meetings on the issue. They have also launched an online petition called Change the Law: No More Naming of Revenge Porn Victims.
‘From bad to worse’
Ms Richards-Shaw told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme she had become involved in the campaign after her ex-boyfriend shared intimate photos he had taken without her knowledge. He was prosecuted and given a suspended jail sentence.
She said a change in law was crucial to help victims “keep their personal life personal”.
During the court case, she had told just very close family – but the day before he was to be sentenced, she received a text message saying the press were planning to cover the story .
“It just went from bad to worse,” she said. “My picture, my name, my job, they’d gone on my Facebook page and published that, they were waiting for me outside court, I had them at my doorstep the next morning. It was horrible – I had gone from being stalked by him to being stalked by the media.”
Mrs Mulligan said there was a loophole, as “revenge porn” seemed to have been categorised as a domestic abuse offence as opposed to a sexual offence.
“If you looked at it in the sexual offences category when the law was being passed, then they may have thought about anonymity.
“We really want ministers to listen to what Keeley has to say and to change the law.”
She added that some of the media had said they would not publish victims’ names, but this was not automatic.
The law classes “revenge porn” as “photographs or films which show people engaged in sexual activity or depicted in a sexual way or with their genitals exposed, where what is shown would not usually be seen in public”.
It covers images shared on and offline without the subject’s permission and with the intent to cause harm. Physical distribution of images is also covered. A Ministry of Justice official said: “Revenge porn is an abuse of trust that can leave people feeling humiliated and degraded.
“By making it a specific offence, we have sent a clear message that this crime will not be tolerated and we have already seen an increase in the number of people coming forward.
“It is vital that victims have the confidence to report cases. That is why judges have discretionary powers to prohibit the naming of victims if identification would affect the case and cause undue fear or distress.”
For those following my journey, I feel that at times I need to tell you how I feel.
This has been a very lonely journey and at times I feel frustrated, disappointed but really not surprised to be honest. I have been helping other victims since becoming a victim of Revenge Porn in 2014, which is over a year ago and long before the Revenge Porn Helpline or the new Revenge Porn Law came into fruition.
Its alarming how those who claim to be fighting the same cause, ‘raising awareness of revenge porn’; ‘those who provide support & advice to victims of revenge porn’ deem to do so alone. I have tried to reach out to victims who speak out publicly (by the way there aren’t many) and other agencies to work in partnership against this heinous, sole destroying and destructive crime. To date this proves to be a battle – just like battling my fears when I was a victim of revenge porn.
Now a survivor I feel that I have made my stance clear!
I do this because I care, because I’m passionate and no longer want to be a victim but to take control of my life. I do this because I want others to see that even though life can be painful and people are cruel, vindictive and hurtful. You can rebuild your life.
In the summer of this year, I was asked to be a guest presenter on Crimewatch. My topic ‘sextortion’.
Talking about the rise of this internet crime, it dawned on me that this in fact is another ploy to publicly embarrass, victimize and cause destructive stress to victims by using sexual images or videos, but with an added financial gain.
This is the crime that involves extorting money or holding someone to ransom for financial gain. If your not careful you could easily become a victim! Victims are often caught out by surprise, they think they have befriended someone genuine through social media. This could be via Facebook, or any social media platform. Victims are usually caught out after a brief conversation or after building a very brief but sexual relationship with someone they think is real. Then when the victim feels comfortable they are coaxed to either talk via a webcam using an online gateway or by using another form of webcam device such as Skype.
I interviewed, Wayne from Scam Survivors on Crimewatch.