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

Photo: Getty
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The EU’s willingness to take on Google shows just how stupid Brexit is

Outside the union the UK will be in a far weaker position to stand up for its citizens.

Google’s record €2.4bn (£2.12bn) fine for breaching European competition rules is an eye-catching example of the EU taking on the Silicon Valley giants. It is also just one part of a larger battle to get to grips with the influence of US-based web firms.

From fake news to tax, the European Commission has taken the lead in investigating and, in this instance, sanctioning, the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon for practices it believes are either anti-competitive for European business or detrimental to the lives of its citizens.

Only in May the commission fined Facebook €110m for providing misleading information about its takeover of WhatsApp. In January, it issued a warning to Facebook over its role in spreading fake news. Last summer, it ordered Apple to pay an extra €13bn in tax it claims should have been paid in Ireland (the Irish government had offered a tax break). Now Google has been hit for favouring its own price comparison services in its search results. In other words, consumers who used Google to find the best price for a product across the internet were in fact being gently nudged towards the search engine giant's own comparison website.

As European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager put it:

"Google has come up with many innovative products and services that have made a difference to our lives. That's a good thing. But Google's strategy for its comparison shopping service wasn't just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals. Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors.

"What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation."

The border-busting power of these mostly US-based digital companies is increasingly defining how people across Europe and the rest of the world live their lives. It is for the most part hugely beneficial for the people who use their services, but the EU understandably wants to make sure it has some control over them.

This isn't about beating up on the tech companies. They are profit-maximising entities that have their own goals and agendas, and that's perfectly fine. But it's vital to to have a democratic entity that can represent the needs of its citizens. So far the EU has proved the only organisation with both the will and strength to do so.

The US Federal Communications Commission could also do more to provide a check on their power, but has rarely shown the determination to do so. And this is unlikely to change under Donald Trump - the US Congress recently voted to block proposed FCC rules on telecoms companies selling user data.

Other countries such as China have resisted the influence of the internet giants, but primarily by simply cutting off their access and relying on home-grown alternatives it can control better.  

And so it has fallen to the EU to fight to ensure that its citizens get the benefits of the digital revolution without handing complete control over our online lives to companies based far away.

It's a battle that the UK has never seemed especially keen on, and one it will be effectively retreat from when it leaves the EU.

Of course the UK government is likely to continue ramping up rhetoric on issues such as encryption, fake news and the dissemination of extremist views.

But after Brexit, its bargaining power will be weak, especially if the priority becomes bringing in foreign investment to counteract the impact Brexit will have on our finances. Unlike Ireland, we will not be told that offering huge tax breaks broke state aid rules. But if so much economic activity relies on their presence will our MPs and own regulatory bodies decide to stand up for the privacy rights of UK citizens?

As with trade, when it comes to dealing with large transnational challenges posed by the web, it is far better to be part of a large bloc speaking as one than a lone voice.

Companies such as Google and Facebook owe much of their success and power to their ability to easily transcend borders. It is unsurprising that the only democratic institution prepared and equipped to moderate that power is also built across borders.

After Brexit, Europe will most likely continue to defend the interests of its citizens against the worst excesses of the global web firms. But outside the EU, the UK will have very little power to resist them.

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