We need to talk about revenge porn

"Young women who have contacted us talk about feeling “dirty” and “shamed”, they talk about self -harming and depression"

This week, California became the latest place to tackle revenge porn. With prison sentences of up to six months or fines of up to $1,000 they have agreed that sharing intimate images without the other person’s consent should be punishable by law. Building on the work of the inspiring women of End Revenge Porn and Army of She, Scotland has begun to explore how we can actively tackle this growing problem here in the UK.

At Scottish Women’s Aid, we’ve been running the Stop Revenge Porn Scotland campaign for the last few months, and by and large we’ve had great support from the public, practitioners, the Police and politicians. We’ve had debates in Parliament, we’ve had round tables with legal experts, we’ve delivered training to civil servants and others, and we’ve created a wall of support for folk to participate in, including two MSPs.

However, there are a couple of questions that we’re continually asked -why did she do it, what would you say to young women thinking about doing it, and why is it such a big deal? Rarely are we asked- how can we stop some young men from sharing these images and/or videos. Rather than revenge porn being some strange perpetrator-less crime, this has more to do with the usual suspects; victim blaming and slut shaming.

For those of you lucky enough to be unfamiliar with these concepts, this is the social narrative that positions rape and abuse as natural; that holds women responsible for containing these “natural urges”. The argument goes, if we don’t protect ourselves properly, then we can’t blame men for acting out in their “natural ways”. Hence- you were asking for it, what did you expect, you lead him on etc etc. Hugely offensive to all of us. We would all hope that the men and boys in our lives are much, much better than that.

But alongside these responses, young people also face a particular kind of disbelief and minimising. Being teenagers or young people, they have always borne the brunt of moral panics, and in this instance they may be exploring their sexualities through very modern technologies, technologies that often mean nothing to different generations. For many young people, intimacy doesn’t just occur in the bedroom, it occurs online. The world (or at least, the adults in positions of power and authority) massively underestimates just how much the digital world means to digital natives. According to a study by Youth Net, 75 per cent of young people claimed they could not live without the internet and 45% of young people said they felt happiest when they were online. Twice as many 18-year-olds use Facebook than are registered to vote (Electoral commission).

Clearly, this online world is central to their lives. Having pictures or videos emailed to your employers, your teachers, your parents and friends is often just the start of it. Some women are contacted by stranger’s years later with old pictures that have been downloaded and saved. Some women are blackmailed, threatened and coerced with the threat of sharing images. Young women who have contacted us talk about feeling “dirty” and “shamed”, they talk about self -harming and depression. This is not a one off incident with no repercussions- it is harassment, it is humiliation, it is violence against women. Guidance and advice needs to move away from simply talking to your mum or teacher, or deactivating accounts. We urgently need to move to a place where we understand that violence against women that occurs online is violence against women. We are way past turning the computer off and walking away.

Ellie Hutchinson is the co-ordinator for Stop Revenge Porn Scotland, the UK’s first campaign dedicated to this work

Photograph: Getty Images

Ellie Hutchinson is the co-ordinator for Stop Revenge Porn Scotland, the UK’s first campaign dedicated to this work

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The dog at the end of the lead may be small, but in fact what I’m walking is a hound of love

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel.

There is a new, hairy face in the Hovel. I seem to have become a temporary co-owner of an enthusiastic Chorkie. A Chorkie, in case you’re not quite up to speed with your canine crossbreeds, is a mixture of a chihuahua and a Yorkshire Terrier, and while my friend K— busies herself elsewhere I am looking after this hound.

This falls squarely into the category of Things I Never Thought I’d Do. I’m a cat person, taking my cue from their idleness, cruelty and beauty. Dogs, with their loyalty, their enthusiasm and their barking, are all a little too much for me, even after the first drink of the day. But the dog is here, and I am in loco parentis, and it is up to me to make sure that she is looked after and entertained, and that there is no repetition of the unfortunate accident that occurred outside my housemate’s room, and which needed several tissues and a little poo baggie to make good.

As it is, the dog thinks I am the bee’s knees. To give you an idea of how beeskneesian it finds me, it is licking my feet as I write. “All right,” I feel like saying to her, “you don’t have to go that far.”

But it’s quite nice to be worshipped like this, I have decided. She has also fallen in love with the Hovel, and literally writhes with delight at the stinky cushions on the sofa. Named after Trude Fleischmann, the lesbian erotic photographer of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, she has decided, with admirable open-mindedness, that I am the Leader of the Pack. When I take the lead, K— gets a little vexed.

“She’s walking on a loose lead, with you,” K— says. “She never does that when I’m walking her.” I don’t even know what that means, until I have a think and work it out.

“She’s also walking to heel with you,” K— adds, and once again I have to join a couple of mental dots before the mists part. It would appear that when it comes to dogs, I have a natural competence and authority, qualities I had never, not even in my most deranged flights of self-love, considered myself to possess in any measurable quantity at all.

And golly, does having a dog change the relationship the British urban flâneur has with the rest of society. The British, especially those living south of Watford, and above all those in London, do not recognise other people’s existence unless they want to buy something off them or stop them standing on the left of the sodding escalator, you idiot. This all changes when you have a dog with you. You are now fair game for any dog-fancier to come up to you and ask the most personal questions about the dog’s history and genealogy. They don’t even have to have a dog of their own; but if you do, you are obliged by law to stop and exchange dog facts.

My knowledge of dog facts is scant, extending not much further beyond them having a leg at each corner and chasing squirrels, so I leave the talking to K—, who, being a friendly sort who could probably talk dog all day long if pressed, is quite happy to do that. I look meanwhile in a kind of blank wonder at whichever brand of dog we’ve just encountered, and marvel not only at the incredible diversity of dog that abounds in the world, but at a realisation that had hitherto escaped me: almost half of London seems to have one.

And here’s the really interesting thing. When I have the leash, the city looks at me another way. And, specifically, the young women of the city. Having reached the age when one ceases to be visible to any member of the opposite sex under 30, I find, all of a sudden, that I exist again. Women of improbable beauty look at Trude, who looks far more Yorkie than chihuahua, apart from when she does that thing with the ears, and then look at me, and smile unguardedly and unironically, signalling to me that they have decided I am a Good Thing and would, were their schedules not preventing them, like to chat and get to know me and the dog a bit better.

I wonder at first if I am imagining this. I mention it to K—.

“Oh yes,” she says, “it’s a thing. My friend P-J regularly borrows her when he wants to get laid. He reckons he’s had about 12 shags thanks to her in the last six months. The problems only arise when they come back again and notice the dog isn’t there.”

I do the maths. Twelve in six months! That’s one a fortnight. An idea begins to form in my mind. I suppose you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out what it is. But no. I couldn’t. Could I?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism