My ex put a video of me performing a sex act on Pornhub to millions – why do so many men get away with revenge porn?

SHARING sexual images of a person without their consent has been a criminal offence in England and Wales for five years.

But why are so many men still getting away with it?

Opening up the Pornhub link she’d been sent from an anonymous email address, Elaine’s* blood ran cold. It led to a video showing her performing a sex act.

“After we split, my ex had been tormenting me by uploading sexual photos and footage of me to Facebook, telling me he wouldn’t stop until I got back together with him,” says Elaine, 25.

“He’d sent the videos to my friends, family and work colleagues, but uploading them to Pornhub, with its millions of users, was a new level of abuse.” 

Sadly, Elaine is far from alone. In the past five years, thousands of women have reported being victims of revenge porn – where private or sexual images or videos of a person are shared without their consent.

But while it became an offence in England and Wales in April 2015 and Scotland in 2016, with Northern Ireland soon laying down similar laws, it’s rare to get a conviction. In 2018, just one in 20 cases resulted in one. 

In 2017, 261 people in England and Wales were convicted of disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress, and in 2018, the number of convictions had fallen to 183. 

But despite the conviction rate falling, figures from 19 police forces in England and Wales showed that the number of investigations into revenge porn crimes have doubled since 2015, up from 852 to 1,853 in 2019.For this same period, charges dropped by 23%. And in 2019 a third of victims dropped their case before it even went to court.

Now the crime is set to be put under the spotlight with the launch of Sky Atlantic’s new drama I Hate Suzie, starring Billie Piper, which explores what happens when a celebrity is hacked and sexual photos are leaked.

I begged him to take the photos and videos down, but he told me he’d only stop if I got back together with him, which I refused to do.

And Zara McDermott is fronting a BBC3 documentary later this year, revealing her ordeal with revenge porn. After she left Love Island she found out nude photos had been leaked online while she was in the villa.

Elaine’s ex-boyfriend began his campaign of online abuse against her when she split up with him in March this year. “My ex was always very controlling,” she explains.

“We were in a long-distance relationship for three years as he lived abroad, but he’d often force me to share my location with him so he could track where I was. He became verbally abusive after I broke it off with him and I blocked him. But just a few days later, friends told me that he’d been sending them sexual videos of me via WhatsApp.”

Disturbingly, when Elaine asked to see the videos, she realised that while she’d consented to some of them being taken, others had been secretly filmed while she undressed. 

“I felt utterly violated,” she says. “I stopped sleeping and eating I was so distressed. I begged him to take the photos and videos down, but he told me he’d only stop if I got back together with him, which I refused to do.He admitted he had hacked my phone, and he kept taunting me, sending the material to my friends, family, and work colleagues from more than 30 phone numbers. It was terrifying and mortifying.

"While my family and friends were supportive, it was much trickier telling work what was happening. Luckily, my colleagues were OK about it. But days later, he began uploading the clips to Pornhub. He’d send me a screenshot of the page, but then delete it before I could report the link. It was all a game to him.” 

While Elaine went to the police straight away – and she believes she was taken seriously – she has yet to secure a conviction.

“My ex still lives abroad, so while the investigation remains ongoing, the police can’t arrest him. He stopped posting the videos and pictures after his family discovered what he was doing and told him how disgusting it was, and the videos have now been taken down. Even so, I’ve begun to feel very depressed and numb to it, and increasingly detached.” 

I’m terrified prospective employers could Google my name and see the videos, so I’ve had to change it.

Elaine’s ex has gone silent for now, but she lives in fear that he will start up again. She’s contacted charities for counselling, and is on a waiting list, but she’s had to get a new phone number and legally change her name, including getting a new passport, to distance herself from the clips online.

“I’m terrified prospective employers could Google my name and see the videos, so I’ve had to change it,” she says. “In the future, I will find it hard to trust a man. I’ll always be on high alert.” 

Clare McGlynn is professor of law at Durham University and an expert on the legal situation around sexual violence and image-based sexual abuse. She says: “Revenge porn is a deeply isolating crime, which – at its worst – causes women to take their own lives.

"That’s because of the shame factor. Society still views female and male sexuality very differently. When a woman takes a nude photo, we are far more ready to criticise and look down on her. When a woman reports revenge porn, there is still a tendency to tell her.

‘It’s your fault – you shouldn’t have done this to begin with’, which is known as slut-shaming. And with lockdown, we’ve all been using social media more, which is why more revenge porn is being shared.” 

Indeed, according to Revenge Porn Helpline, the number of people calling to seek help almost doubled in the week beginning March 23, when lockdown was imposed.

And as Clare details, there have been several tragic suicides linked to the crime. Late K-pop star Goo Hara’s ex-boyfriend Choi Jong-bum was jailed in July this year after courts in Seoul found he’d blackmailed her with revenge porn videos, which played a part in the 28 year old’s suspected suicide last November. 

In May 2019, Spanish mum-of-two Veronica Rubio, took her own life aged 32, after a jealous ex shared a sex tape with her work colleagues. And in June 2017, Damilya Jossipalenya, 24, a Kazakh student living in London, jumped from her apartment window, killing herself, after her ex Alessio Bianchi sent a video of her performing a sex act to a friend, before threatening to “destroy” her and send it on to her conservative family. 

Threats to share intimate images or photos without consent are increasingly being used as a tool of coercive control.

Victim Support urges women to report any images that are put up online without their consent. Victim Support services director Ellen Miller says: “It is vital that victims of this serious crime remember that they are not to blame for this violation of privacy and, often, trust.

"If an image has been shared on a website without your consent, request that the image is removed. If you can, try to keep evidence of the incident by taking a record and screenshots of posts or messages in case you decide to report this crime to the police at some point.”

In July this year, domestic abuse charity Refuge called on the government to make the very threat of sharing explicit images or videos without consent illegal in England and Wales after it found that one in seven young women in the UK has been the victim of revenge porn threats.

While Scotland made it an offence to make these threats in 2016, England and Wales are still lagging behind, and nor is it a crime in Northern Ireland. 

Ellie Butt, head of policy and public affairs at Refuge, says: “Threats to share intimate images or photos without consent are increasingly being used as a tool of coercive control. Because threatening to share intimate images is not a clear criminal offence, the police rarely take action. A simple legal change would make a huge difference to thousands of women and girls.” 

But in the Republic of Ireland, where Megan Sims, 23, from Limerick, lives, revenge porn itself is still not even classified as a crime. In May 2016, she was horrified when she logged into Facebook to be confronted by over 400 messages calling her a “slut” and “whore”, after explicit photos of her had been shared with hundreds of people in group chats on the platform, from her friends and family – including her parents and grandparents – to complete strangers. 

“My grandparents were understandably shocked, though they didn’t blame me, but it was awful because you never expect your family to see you in that kind of a way,” she says. “But the worst of it was the messages from strangers. People were telling me to kill myself,” explains Megan.

“Friends were supportive, but these messages from strangers were very hard to take.  After a few days, I began to feel so low that I tried to jump off a bridge. It’s very blurry, but when a stranger talked me down, I went home and attempted an overdose.

I felt violated and, though my mind has blocked most of it out, I know it was the darkest period of my life

"I felt violated and, though my mind has blocked most of it out, I know it was the darkest period of my life. I wasn’t offered any counselling, so it was up to me to get through it alone. Even now, nobody else knows I tried to kill myself.”

While Megan has her suspicions as to who circulated the images, she cannot be sure. She reported the issue to Facebook and deleted her social media accounts, but a few months later she was alerted by friends that the pictures had been uploaded to a revenge porn website. 

“That’s when I went to the police,” she says. “They took a statement, but there wasn’t much more they could do. I decided to reach out to other local girls whose pictures were also on the website, and encourage them to report what had happened to them to the police. I met up with a few of them in person, but none of us felt we were taken seriously by the police.” 

While 60% of revenge porn victims are under the age of 39, research by Refuge found that 9% of victims were in their 50s, 12% in their 60s, and 5% in their 70s, demonstrating that the crime can affect women of any age. 

Kim, 56, became a victim of revenge porn when her ex-boyfriend, Michael Young, 49, forwarded explicit photos and videos he’d taken of her without her permission to her family and friends, including her son, now 21, and daughter, 18. 

“I got together with my ex in August 2018, but he quickly became controlling and verbally abusive,” she says. He would tell me what to wear and demanded I delete certain people from my social media. When I broke up with him in January 2019, he stole my car and I went straight to the police.

"I was already in contact with them when he sent sexual photos and videos to my family and friends. It was horrific. They were all very understanding, but I felt so embarrassed and ashamed, and though they were supportive, I know it was mortifying for my children. 

“He then began bombarding me with threatening messages, called my phone hundreds of times a day, and turned up at my house in the middle of the night. I ended up putting up CCTV at home as I was so worried.” 

He then began bombarding me with threatening messages, called my phone hundreds of times a day, and turned up at my house in the middle of the night.

Kim says she had a positive experience with the police, though she understands why some women might not want to pursue a case because, unlike other sexual crimes, victims of revenge porn are not granted anonymity during the legal process. 

“When I stood up and read my statement in court in August 2019, I looked my ex right in the eye because I wanted him to know how he made me feel,” she says. “Now, I’m jumpy at night when I’m alone, and I’ve still got the CCTV up. I’m moving house soon, so there’s no way he’ll be able to track me down again.”

In England and Wales there’s a maximum sentence of two years for committing revenge porn, while in Scotland it’s five, however, Michael Young received just a 12-month suspended sentence for what he did to Kim. 

“It just didn’t seem like anything for what he’d put me through,” adds Kim. “Though I was happier that he got a five-year restraining order, so at least he can’t come near me or my daughter again.”

Clare explains that even when in court with good evidence against the perpetrator, many victims will end up withdrawing. “Women are often worn down by the process, and perhaps they’ve not got the right support from family or friends, or they fear the publicity that can come with a case,” she explains. 

“And once in court, the perpetrator can often argue that there was consent to post the image, though that’s rarely a credible claim. However, police have to prove that the photos were posted with intent to cause the victim distress, which is a key factor in limiting the amount of cases that progress to a conviction. 

“In the future, I’d hope the law would be changed so women were granted anonymity, which would give them more protection in court and lead to more convictions.”

A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service spokesperson told Fabulous: “We recognise the traumatic effect so-called revenge porn has and urge people to report this vile offence. We can only prosecute cases the police bring to us, but always seek to prosecute if our legal test is met. Sharing private sexual images is often part of a wider campaign of harassment and this offending can sometimes be reflected in other criminal charges.”

While Megan has now managed to get most of the images of her taken down, she’s only recently gone back on social media, and she’s constantly worried they could be put back on online again – and that’s the fear that all victims of revenge porn live with.

“The difference is that if they go back up, I won’t stand for it again,” she says. She is now campaigning for the law to change in Ireland with a Change.org petition that has been signed by more than 13,000 people so far. 

“But what really needs to change, apart from the law, is women being slut-shamed,” adds Megan. “It’s a massive thing that impacts every woman. Either you’re a virgin and you’re a prude or you have sex once and you’re a slut. There’s no winning with this. And until society changes, we all can’t move forward.”  

  • Sign Megan’s petition to make revenge porn illegal in the Republic of Ireland by visiting Change.org and typing Megan Jr into the search box.

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