Cyber Rape or Revenge Porn?

Image: Chris Halderman
Image: Chris Halderman

Hunter Moore, the most hated man on the internet, who’s website “isanyoneup?.com” thrived on human misery and misogyny did not know what had hit him after he took on the wrong mother.

After her daughter Kayla’s Facebook account and email were hacked, and a topless photo of her was posted to the website, Charlotte Laws launched a two year investigation into Moore, leading the FBI to his front door.

The Hunter Moore case has brought even more attention to the already increasingly recognized topic of revenge pornography. This lack of respect for private photographs of this nature has not only become a problem for celebrities, but in an age where a photo can be sent between phones or uploaded onto the internet in seconds, it has become a huge issue for people everywhere.

The embarrassment, feelings of shame, guilt and blame, which are associated with having explicit pictures of themselves in the public domain, often overwhelm revenge porn victims and they do not receive the help they need; nor do the perpetrators receive the blame they deserve. Instead, they are often applauded for providing entertainment at another person’s expense.

We spoke to the Erin Brockovich of revenge porn, Charlotte Laws herself, to find out exactly what Laws thought of the issue of ‘revenge porn’ and her opinions on the new UK law passed in April 2015, that attempts to make revenge porn illegal.

 

DR:     Charlotte, do you think that “revenge porn” is the best word to use for this offence? 

CL:     It’s a misnomer. It’s not accurate but it’s a term developed by the media which has caught on. I personally prefer to call it ‘cyber rape’, the victims are very much like traditional rape victims; they are victimized and vulnerable.

People are more accepting of it as a sex crime now; two years ago when I first came out with the term ‘cyber rape’ people were very angry and I was attacked on Twitter for using the term but over time, with the celebrity hack, and Jennifer Lawrence agreeing it was a sex crime, people have become more accepting.

Revenge porn is essentially revenge on women because 90% of the victims are female

DR: So when you dealt with the Hunter Moore case would you say that most of the pictures he posted were for revenge?

CL:     I did a limited study of people who were depicted on the site. I took a certain number of them and contacted them and I found that 40% were hacked, 12% were photo shopped and a further 36% thought that they were traditional revenge porn victims of an angry ex-boyfriend.

However, my view is that revenge porn is essentially revenge on women because 90% of the victims are female and so even if you don’t say its revenge from an angry ex-boyfriend, I still think you could say that it’s an attack on women. Its sexism, its misogyny, this hatred of females that lurks in the sub culture of the internet.

 

DR:     Do you think that the new UK law is useful in cases of revenge porn? Especially given that it must be proved that the image was shared with the intent to cause distress?

CL:     I think that it is problematic when you have a clause that says you have to cause severe emotional distress. When you look at other crimes, if someone you know breaks into your house, you don’t hear the police say “well, was your intent to cause severe emotional distress, because if not we’re not to going to arrest you”.

I think that should be changed and I know that California’s law also originally stated that clause. We had the first law that we passed which was SB255, which we considered very weak because it had that clause in it, and it also didn’t include self-shots. Now we have improved the law, we made an amendment called SB1255, and we have a much stronger law in California. I don’t think that the law in the UK is the strongest, but I do think that it will still be a deterrent for some perpetrators and I think that something is better than nothing.

 

DR:     How much do you think that ideas of victim blaming and shame play into the motives of those who commit revenge porn and the reluctance of the victims to come forwards?

CL:     I think that sex crimes are all about power, which is what the perpetrator has over the victim and I think that this is exactly the same thing with regards to revenge porn; it’s an issue of power. It’s an issue of control and an issue of shaming and humiliating.

Rape victims frequently don’t come forward, because they just want to put it out of their mind, they want to forget about it, they don’t want it to become public and they don’t want to be humiliated again in the court room or humiliated again by the police department who make it seem like its their fault. Certainly this was the case in the past and although it’s probably better today than it used to be, anything that is related to sex and women; women tend to think that it’s their fault.

Society has told women that you’re not supposed to be sexual, you’re supposed to be prim and proper, and if you do anything that’s not prim and proper then it’s your own fault and so women internalize it and blame themselves. I think that there is significant correlation between traditional rape and cyber rape.

 

DR:     Considering male victims of revenge porn, many men and boys have trouble coming forward and often don’t want to seek help because they’re expected to just laugh it off. Do you think society is biased towards taking female victims of revenge porn more seriously?

CL:     There are definitely victims who are male. In our group when I was reaching out to people who were victimized by Hunter Moore’s site, there were males, and they definitely wanted their pictures down.

One of them for example was a law student who was seeking a job in a firm and he had a nude picture on the internet and that’s obviously a problem so they were pretty desperate to get their pictures down just like the women were.

It’s true, society probably doesn’t think it’s as important to get a nude picture of a male down as a female, so there is probably that bias. Ultimately it’s a problem for both sexes.

 

DR:     Lastly, would you ever consider describing revenge porn as a form of sexual violence?

CL:     Absolutely.

 

To find out more about Charlotte Laws and her on-going fight against Hunter Moore and revenge porn, please visit her websites charlottelaws.com and rebelinhighheels.com. You can follow her on Twitter @CharlotteLaws 

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