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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“I felt very lonely”: addressing the untold story of isolation among young mothers

With one in five young mothers lonely “all the time”, it’s time for employers and services to step up.

“Despite having my child with me all the time, I felt very lonely,” says Laura Davies. A member of an advisory panel for the Young Women’s Trust, she had her son age 20. Now, with a new report suggesting that one in five young mums “feels lonely all the time”, she’s sharing her story.

Polling commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust has highlighted the isolation that young motherhood can bring. Of course, getting out and about the same as you did before is never easy once there’s a young child in the picture. For young mothers, however, the situation can be particularly difficult.

According to the report, over a quarter of young mothers leave the house just once a week or less, with some leaving just once a month.

Aside from all the usual challenges – like wrestling a colicky infant into their jacket, or pumping milk for the trip with one hand while making sure no-one is crawling into anything dangerous with the other – young mothers are more likely to suffer from a lack of support network, or to lack the confidence to approach mother-baby groups and other organisations designed to help. In fact, some 68 per cent of young mothers said they had felt unwelcome in a parent and toddler group.

Davies paints what research suggests is a common picture.

“Motherhood had alienated me from my past. While all my friends were off forging a future for themselves, I was under a mountain of baby clothes trying to navigate my new life. Our schedules were different and it became hard to find the time.”

“No one ever tells you that when you have a child you will feel an overwhelming sense of love that you cannot describe, but also an overwhelming sense of loneliness when you realise that your life won’t be the same again.

More than half of 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed said that they felt lonelier since becoming a mother, with more than two-thirds saying they had fewer friends than before. Yet making new friends can be hard, too, especially given the judgement young mothers can face. In fact, 73 per cent of young mothers polled said they’d experienced rudeness or unpleasant behaviour when out with their children in public.

As Davies puts it, “Trying to find mum friends when your self-confidence is at rock bottom is daunting. I found it easier to reach out for support online than meet people face to face. Knowing they couldn’t judge me on my age gave me comfort.”

While online support can help, however, loneliness can still become a problem without friends to visit or a workplace to go to. Many young mothers said they would be pleased to go back to work – and would prefer to earn money rather than rely on benefits. After all, typing some invoices, or getting back on the tills, doesn’t just mean a paycheck – it’s also a change to speak to someone old enough to understand the words “type”, “invoice” and “till”.

As Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton explains, “More support is needed for young mothers who want to work. This could include mentoring to help ease women’s move back into education or employment.”

But mothers going back to work don’t only have to grapple with childcare arrangements, time management and their own self-confidence – they also have to negotiate with employers. Although the 2003 Employment Act introduced the right for parents of young children to apply to work flexibly, there is no obligation for their employer to agree. (Even though 83 per cent of women surveyed by the Young Women’s Trust said flexible hours would help them find secure work, 26 per cent said they had had a request turned down.)

Dr Easton concludes: “The report recommends access to affordable childcare, better support for young women at job centres and advertising jobs on a flexible, part-time or job share basis by default.”

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland