This article is a collaboration between HBO and PAPER Magazine, bringing together premium entertainment such as the new HBO series Euphoria and PAPER's 'Break the Internet' sensibility.
Experts say there are five love languages, but since the invention of smartphones, you can add a sixth: sexting. The time-honored tradition of sending your lover intimate photos has expanded into a complex multimedia experience. Apps like Snapchat were created for the purpose of sharing sexy snaps and videos, and the feckless nature of the internet (plus the bottomless demand for porn) makes the leaking of private content unfortunately all too likely.
In HBO's Euphoria, Kat (Barbie Ferreira) experiences the fall out of having a sex tape leaked (in her case, filmed and distributed without her consent). For high school students, pressure to send sexts combined with age appropriate poor judgment and a tendency toward groupthink and public shaming can be the perfect recipe for disaster. As Bella Thorne pointed out recently when she was hacked by a blackmailer (and fought back by choosing to release her nudes herself), it's never the victim's fault for having their privacy violated.
In an ideal world, young people would be able to explore their sexuality in a consensual, safe way without the potentially devastating consequences of a leak, we know this is not the case (and that not all victims are treated the same: straight cis men and boys are far less likely to be shamed for their participation in sexual activity but rather, congratulated). Figures vary, but a study published by the Data & Society Research Institute in 2016 found that 1 in 25 Americans are either threatened with or victims of nonconsensual image sharing, or "revenge porn," and that women under 30, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community are much more likely than men to be threatened with revenge porn.
There is also the complex matter of nudes or videos, consensual or not, being shared between minors. Strict child pornography laws mean that even consenting teens can find themselves guilty of possession of child pornography, which can result in a host of very serious legal consequences, including placement on a sex offender registry.
Thanks to a few high profile cases and the tireless work of activists, laws banning revenge porn are now in place in 46 states. There are a number of groups dedicated to helping victims of revenge porn and should your nude photos or videos be leaked, whether intentionally or by accident, here's what you can do:
It may seem like your world is crashing around you, but attitudes around revenge porn are changing and as a society we are (slowly) moving away from victim blaming. There are more resources now than ever before. This is something you can get through.
Each state is a little different, but there are a number of laws in place to protect victims of revenge porn and prosecute those who spread it. The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative has information on laws in place, and even in the absence of legislation, you may be able to file cyber security or privacy-related charges.
As mentioned, there are several organizations working to help victims of revenge porn. One is Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, which has a FAQ for victims, guide to online removal, legal referrals and listings for attorneys who can help. CCRI also has a 24-hour crisis helpline, providing support from mental health professionals immediately and on demand. "We have a series of resources on our site, depending on what works for you," Dr. Mary Anne Franks, CCRI's Vice-President and Legislative & Tech Policy Director told Lifehacker in 2018. The nonprofit Without My Consent trains attorneys and advocates on online harassment law. The group provides resources for victims, including the "Something Can Be Done!" guide.
Seek online removal.
CCRI has a guide to online removal, which explains how to report revenge porn to sites, including social media giants like Facebook and Twitter. It also includes information on what you can expect and other steps to consider taking.
Take screenshots of all links and posts. If you're being harassed or stalked, screenshot and document everything.
Report to law enforcement.
Attorney Carrie Goldberg, founder of C.A. Goldberg, PLLC, advises: "If your state does have a law criminalizing revenge porn, report it to the police. Chances are it is a new law, so print out the law and take it with you when you report the crime. Be sure to take screenshots and to have them organized beforehand. Make sure you report other crimes you experienced, such as physical or financial abuse, hacking, impersonation, harassment, stalking, extortion, or coercion. If you are underage in the pictures or they were taken without your consent or knowledge, those are both additional crimes. You must be prepared to explain who you think the offender is and why you think that. (Was he the only person you sent the picture to? Did he threaten you before he did it? Did you recently break up? Did he do other harassing and stalkerish things?) On TV it seems as though every crime results in an immediate arrest but the truth is that you need to make a compelling argument that a crime transpired. Then you need to follow up. If you get nowhere reporting it at the precinct, reach out to the district attorney."
Goldberg also advises: "Shore up your privacy and security settings. If you are being attacked online by somebody, immediately restrict your Facebook settings, require permission for anybody to post on your wall or tag you in a photo, and make your friends list private. Enable two-factor authentication on all accounts, devices, cloud storage systems, and modems, create unique complex pass phrases and answer security questions in unexpected ways (e.g., "Q: What's your mother's maiden name? A: Baby Jessica fell in a well"). Stay alert. Stay safe. Whenever we can, we request for our clients to proceed under pseudonyms and for the file to be sealed so that the media does not amplify the privacy invasion."
It's smart to keep your privacy settings up to date in general.
Talk to someone.
Whether it's a mental health professional, friend or family member, or person online, it's important to know that having your private images or videos leaked can be a traumatic experience and that it's normal to feel violated. Though some victims may feel that because they weren't physically harmed, they aren't victims of a sex crime, having your images spread without your consent is a violent violation of privacy and you should treat yourself with extra love and care.