Fighting Revenge Porn

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How to Fight Back When Your Sexual Privacy is Compromised Online

screen-shot-2015-02-28-at-8-24-06-amFinally, some good news for people who have been (or who have been anxious about becoming) victims of revenge porn! December 2015 marked the first time that a law specifically referencing and criminalizing revenge porn has been on the books in North Carolina. This addition to our legal system was added after an alarming case of privacy infringement occurred at Hough High School in Cornelius, NC. Authorities say that dozens of students had been blackmailed, and nearly a hundred nude photos were released.

Despite the law’s origins, it doesn’t only apply in cases related to minors. Breaking this law now constitutes as a felony offense, and is defined as “releasing explicit photos or videos of a person without their consent, with intent to harass, extort, or intimidate.” North Carolina is now one of twenty-six states with revenge porn laws, up from a mere sixteen at the start of 2014. We are also one of only six states that classify the non-consensual distribution of explicit materials as a felony. In most states, it is only classified as a misdemeanor (often jumping to a felony for a repeat offender).

Luckily, it’s not only lawmakers who are starting to see the need for these restrictions and ramifications. In the summer of 2014, Microsoft (including Bing, OneDrive, and Xbox Live) and Google created sites specifically dedicated to the anonymous reporting of revenge porn. Many other companies followed their lead during the rest of 2015, and have included privacy and harassment clauses in their community guidelines, as well as created anonymous reporting forms. Participating sites now include Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Pornhub, and Tumblr. This commitment, by some of the largest search engines and social media sites in use today, helps to combat one of the biggest issues that face victims of revenge porn: the daunting and near-impossible task of removing their stolen images from the Web.

By using the links and forms outlined by C. A. Goldberg PLLC, that focuses on Internet privacy and abuse, domestic violence, and sexual consent, victims can anonymously report images that have been posted without their consent. While these companies don’t have the ability to remove images from the Internet entirely, this new reporting system does render reported images unsearchable on their specific sites and search engines, giving some privacy and control back to victims. Read more


“This thing… it’s gonna follow you”

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An Exploration of Rape Trauma Syndrome in It Follows

Horror films have a complicated and long history of depictions of rape. As many people have pointed out before me (most famously in Carol J. Clover’s Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film), the violence in horror movies tends to be undeniably gendered, sexualized, and unabashedly voyeuristic. Also, let’s not forget rape/revenge films: a cult subgenre of horror in which an assault survivor creatively dismembers her (often multiple) attackers after being similarly brutalized herself on screen.

At first glance, it may seem that the rape/revenge subgenre might be empowering for survivors. However, it nearly always simply serves as a vehicle for more and more sensational and gratuitous violence and, ultimately, a reinforcement of the status quo for our society’s understanding of survivorship. While these movies include sexual assault as a direct part of the plot, others feature story lines that present allegories for survivorship — intentionally or not.

One such movie is It Follows, an independent film released last March that was described to me as a story about “a sexually-transmitted haunting.” This phrasing immediately made me think of STI prevention and safe sex cautionary tales. As a lover of horror and sex education, I was on board immediately. I expected images and metaphors of disease transmission, condom use, or the plague fear-mongering so commonly seen in modern zombie films. But instead, the visuals and set-up of this film immediately brought trauma response to mind.

Admittedly, it is not uncommon for me to see symptoms of trauma when they are not intentionally being depicted. I work one-on-one with sexual assault survivors as a Companion, and I am a rape survivor myself who experienced a case of Rape Trauma Syndrome which lasted for years, so it’s not unnatural for me to read my own experiences and training into the media I’m consuming. By the director’s own admission of the inspiration for the film – a recurring dream he has had since childhood – I sincerely doubt the meaning I took from the film was intentional on his part. However, I saw it with a friend of mine, also a survivor, who saw the same metaphors that I did. Maybe the intentions of media aren’t quite as important as the messages the audience can take from it. I believe this is especially true for survivors of sexual assault, who often never feel safe or comfortable publicly identifying as a survivor. In such an isolated state, it’s common for survivors to feel like they are ‘crazy’ or overreacting. Without honest, accurate, and sympathetic depictions of the toll of sexual assault, survivors will continue to feel like they are damaged and alone in their trauma symptoms.

Rape trauma syndrome (RTS), a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a stress response very commonly experienced by survivors of sexual assault and rape. Symptoms can occur immediately after an assault and may continue for months or even years afterwards. It is characterized by disruptions to normal physical, emotional, and social functionality. Physical symptoms can include shock, sleep and eating disturbances, and fatigue. Behavioral and emotional symptoms cover many issues including disorientation, purposefully isolating oneself, fear of being alone, crying more than usual, feeling restless or agitated, emotional numbness, hypersexuality, increased anxiety, feelings of guilt, feeling alone, and more.

Every survivor’s emotional experiences after an assault are uniquely personal, and symptoms can be as varied as they can be damaging. The symptoms I’ve listed here are only a few of those possible, and I chose to only include symptoms that I saw depicted in the film, which should give you some indication of the scope and variety of RTS experiences.

It Follows focuses on the story of Jay, a girl in her late teens or early twenties living with her inattentive mother and sister. The horror portion of the film doesn’t really start until Jay goes on a third date with a guy named Hugh, who seems to be roughly her age. After having consensual sex with Jay, he then chooses to chloroform her and tie her to a wheelchair in an abandoned parking garage. He does this in order to have an opportunity to force her to listen to some very unbelievable and time-sensitive warnings. He tells her:

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Stalking in Popular Culture

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1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed (NISVS 2010 Summary Report, CDC).In honor of Stalking Awareness Month, I’d like to explore how stalking and other forms of sexual harassment are depicted and discussed through the media we consume. Countless media portrayals regularly misrepresent stalking and other forms of violence, leading to victim-blaming, minimization, and disbelief from society at large.

These misrepresentations can often wildly skew our understanding of offender typology; this is especially true of films such as Fatal Attraction, Misery, and Swimfan – in which the main offenders are women, distracting audiences from the fact that men make up nearly 90% of stalking perpetrators. Beyond even misinformation, the media’s biggest blunder when it comes to stalking is its tendency to minimize and even romanticize stalking behaviors. While this problem spans a wide variety of popular media, I’d like to focus on music.

More so than movies and television, music has constantly attempted to explore the themes of sex, relationships, and love. And as we all know, where there’s love, there’s also the misapplication of it.  While there are literally countless examples of romanticized violence in music, I’m going to focus on only two recent songs and their respective music videos: Maroon 5’s “Animals” (2014) and Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Possess Your Heart” (2008). I’ve chosen these two due to the extreme disparity in their styles, just to highlight the spectrum of these misinterpretations.

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Awesome Anti-Violence Campaigns from Around the World

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As a freshman in high school, I was required to take an introductory health course. Out of the months I spent in the class, there is only one lecture that I still remember. It revolved solely around the issue of rape and sexual assault. The first half dealt with your basic crime and perpetration statistics. It’s really the second portion of the lecture that’s stuck with me all these years. We were given a list of strategies for preventing sexual assault which included gems such as “don’t wear revealing clothing,” “never go out alone,” and “don’t consume alcohol.” From conversations I’ve had with peers, I’ve come to recognize that my experience was in no way isolated or unique.

Countless young people are taught, either through official school curriculum or through daily interactions with media coverage of sexual assault, that rape is a crime that can and should be prevented by the victim. In these lessons, the perpetrator is barely mentioned, much less held accountable. This strategy is problematic for a variety of reasons: not only does it make a survivor feel responsible for an experienced assault, it also creates an imagined ‘checklist’ in many people’s heads. “If a survivor didn’t follow all of these instructions, then what did they expect? Of course they were going to be assaulted!” Attitudes like this HAVE TO STOP. And employing accurate and supportive educational curriculum is one of the best ways to discredit these viewpoints.

Luckily, there seems to be an ever-growing trend of informed and sensitive ad campaigns that rely on principles of bystander intervention and enthusiastic consent rather than scare tactics, purity myths, and victim blaming. Read on for some of my favorite examples from around the (English-speaking) world.

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How to Support Survivors: The Dos and Don’ts of Receiving a Disclosure

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Back-to-school carries with it a lot of expected stressors — upcoming exams, issues with roommates, cramped schedules. But these aren’t the only pressures college students face. With 1 in 4 college-aged women identifying as survivors of sexual assault, it is not uncommon to have a friend disclose an experience of sexual violence. Receiving a disclosure from a friend can be extremely disorienting, upsetting, and often overwhelming. This mix of emotions can make assisting a friend a confusing experience. What are the best ways to support a loved one in this situation?

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Do:

  • Do assess safety: The first concern when dealing with a sexual assault is the physical and mental well-being of the survivor. Without pressuring the survivor for any specific details, try to gently ask them if they feel safe in their home or workplace, or if they feel like they need medical attention of any sort. During your initial conversation with a survivor, it’s important to remember to pay attention to any clues of mental distress. Depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts are common issues for survivors of trauma, especially in the weeks and months immediately following an assault. If you notice signs of any of these issues, offer resources on both national (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, RAINN) and local (OCRCC, UNC Counseling & Wellness Services) levels.

 

  • Do respect the survivor’s choices: Sexual assault is a crime that specifically attacks a person’s autonomy and right to make decisions about their bodies. By listening carefully to the needs of the survivor rather than making suggestions or decisions for them, you are giving power and authority back to the survivor. This is an excellent way to help them feel that they’ve regained some control and normality.

 

  • Do appreciate the disclosure: Telling others, especially loved ones, about an experience with sexual assault is one of the most difficult things for a survivor to do. The decision to disclose is fraught with many unpleasant considerations: the possibility of reliving the experience during the disclosure, the chance of being blamed or belittled, the worry that they will be disbelieved or excessively questioned. All of these are very real possibilities being faced by a survivor who has decided to disclose. Respect all of these anxieties, and keep them in mind during your discussions. Thank the survivor for the trust they’ve placed in you, and reassure them that you believe them and would never blame them for what happened.

 

Don’t:

  • Don’t get emotional: An emotional response to a disclosure of this magnitude is completely understandable and normal. However, it is best to focus on the needs of the survivor, especially in the moments immediately following their disclosure. An overly emotional reaction such as anger or extreme sadness may be very alarming to a survivor and can make it difficult for them to remain calm. It is also important to keep in mind that the survivor is likely worried about your response and well-being, even in light of their own trauma. Keeping your emotions in check will be one less thing for the survivor to concern themselves with.

 

  • Don’t push for details: When tragedy strikes a loved one, it’s normal to want to understand as much of what happened as you can. While it may feel like it will communicate concern, asking a lot of questions could negatively affect the survivor and your conversation with them. Not only will probing questions serve to make a survivor relive their assault, some questions may even sound to the survivor like blame, even if they were not meant as such. Questions like “How much did you have to drink?” and “Why were you walking home alone?” have the potential to sound more accusatory than caring.

 

  • Don’t forget to take care of yourself: Although the safety and feelings of the survivor should be a main concern, it’s important to remember that you can’t help anybody without first caring for yourself. Secondary survivorship can be incredibly emotionally taxing, especially if the survivor is someone very close to you. Make sure to check in with yourself regularly, and don’t get lost in the support you’re offering to your friend. You can also access support for yourself from the OCRCC by calling our 24-Hour Help Line or participating in a support group for family and friends of survivors of sexual violence.

While these are all helpful suggestions, remember that what a friend needs most after a disclosure is for you to LISTEN. They won’t expect you to have all (or any) of the answers. The most beneficial thing you can do is to offer them your non-judgmental and open-minded support and concern.

Camille Zimmerman has been a Companion since 2013. She provides support and resources for survivors of sexual violence and is a recent graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill.


  • 24-Hour Help Line:

    • 866-WE-LISTEN (866-935-4783)
    • 919-967-7273 (Local)
    • 919-338-0746 (TTY)