People who share nude photos or videos without consent in England and Wales face up to two years in prison,
Boys later blackmail Girls strip for nude photos…
By Shaahidah Riza
Maya* was 16 when she had her first ‘real’ boyfriend. According to her, she and her boyfriend had a very healthy relationship until one day they broke up. That was when the nightmare started. A compromising image of hers sent to her boyfriend in the privacy of her bedroom surfaced on her Facebook timeline, and she was tagged on it. “It was horrible,” she said, “it completely messed up my A/Ls. I wasn’t the only one who sent the pictures; there were other girls in my school who did it. However, I was treated as an outcast at home and in school, because my pictures were made public.” Maya is now 22; she wished she had never sent the pictures at all. She is still coming to terms with being a victim to ‘revenge porn’.
‘Revenge porn’, however, is not the correct term to refer to incidents similar to the above mentioned incident. Hans Billimoria of Grassrooted Trust, an organization which works with young girls like Maya in order to help them come to terms with the experience said the correct term is ‘cyber exploitation’.
Assistant Manager of Planning and Information at the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA), Ediriweera Gunasekera defined ‘cyber exploitation’ in this context as abusing the internet in a manner that would harm a victim, mentally and otherwise, and also tarnish their reputation. He added that the victims, mostly young girls, must be presented with a conducive environment where they would feel comfortable in speaking out about this more openly with their parents and teachers.
Billimoria who contested the term ‘revenge porn’ said “The word ‘porn’ gives a sense that the girl is also at fault. This is happening across the island, and not just in Colombo. Sending a naked picture is something young boys and girls do as a sign of their relationship going to another level. Because they are in a relationship there is almost a normalcy in doing this. We found that the picture is also sometimes demanded by the boy as symbol of the girlfriend’s trust in him. It’s more like ‘if you do not send the picture, you don’t trust me. So what is the point of continuing the relationship?’ We have analyzed over 1,500 pictures of young women and what we found most often is that this begins with a picture of the stomach. It doesn’t begin with the naked picture.”
Billimoria described this as similar to a ‘grooming process’. The young girls are first made to feel comfortable with taking pictures of the otherwise unexposed parts of their bodies.
“First it is a picture of the stomach,” Billimoria said, “then it is a picture of the underwear, uppermost mostly, then the underwear is still on but moved to the side, the breasts are shown, and then below the waist. This happens progressively to full frontal pictures and close-up of genitalia. A girl doesn’t send a naked picture overnight. But, what we also found is that the girls who send these pictures by and large send them out of their own volition. Sometimes they have this thinking ‘my body, my choice, my right’ but they don’t think ahead about the potential exploitative factor. They don’t think that the boys will ever do that to them. It’s an issue of relationship. These girls also don’t know how to say no and still continue on with the relationship. There must be awareness of cyber exploitation; however, there should be a structured programme of relationship education in schools.”
Ceylon Today also spoke to a group of young people, mostly adolescent boys who admitted that nude pictures of schoolgirls go viral through online messaging services, due to the fact that most do not think twice before clicking the send button.
Kavan* aged 15 said “A friend of mine from my school had a long-term relationship with this girl. He used to get very ‘interesting’ images from her. He was very protective of his phone. However, once the boys got hold of his phone and got those pictures to the laptop via Bluetooth. So this boy wanted to get even. He managed to get naked pictures of the girlfriends of those boys.” He added that the pictures were used as a leverage to blackmail both parties in the relationship. The pictures thus went viral.
According to Kavan ‘sexting’ is also very common amongst adolescents. ‘Sexting’ is a commonly used slang term for exchanging sexually graphic content via sms.
“Sometimes it’s just not the pictures,” said Kavan. “A screenshot of the text with the number showing in itself is enough to cause trouble for a schoolgirl.”
Ceylon Today also discovered those pictures of young schoolgirls, sometimes in their school uniforms are uploaded to blogsites, which are known for their sexual content. The pictures of these girls are downloaded from social media, mostly Facebook without their consent or knowledge. On account of these pictures being on porn blogsites, despite their seemingly innocent nature, the reputation of these girls becomes severally tarnished. The source of these pictures was hard to determine.
Billimoria further said that the victims must not be looked at judgmentally, whilst emphasizing the need for the lines of communication between parents and teachers to be open.
Gunasekera acknowledged the tremendous work done by Grassrooted Trust in order to contain the situation. He added that the Cyber Crimes Unit of the CID was also conducting a massive operation to identify the perpetrators. He added that the number of perpetrators and victims has not decreased.
The NCPA source said that sometimes the perpetrators coerce the girls to perform certain sexual acts, as a form of blackmail, to keep the pictures from surfacing on the internet. This form of blackmail creates a more of a ‘Catch 22’ situation. The matter is even more aggravated as these girls, most of the time, are minors. Gunasekera added, “If any picture of yours, be it indecent or otherwise, appears on a site without your permission you have the right to report it. Blackmail over naked pictures of young girls is a very common and serious phenomenon. There are so many pictures being uploaded to porn sites. We will conduct investigations for those less than 18 years of age. Even the seemingly innocent images on porn blogs must also be reported to the Cyber Crimes Division or the NCPA.”
Education is must
Stressing the need to educate boys and girls about respect and faithfulness in a relationship, Billimoria explained, “We need to tell them that respect and faithfulness of being in a relationship means more than sending a naked picture.
“We are also working with the cyber crimes Unit of the CID. They have independently started making arrests, and the arrests they have made are not in Colombo. They have made arrests in places such as Tangalle, Chilaw, etc,” he said. Billimoria also stated that Facebook is the least used medium of such abuse, and that Instagram, Whatsapp and Snapchat being the most prolific ones. He elaborated further that Grassrooted Trust is personally working with four such cases, and also encourages young girls to come forward and make complaints.
Billimoria added “We need to dismantle this patriarchal attitude which men have, the sense of ownership and the sense of entitlement when it comes to women. This has to be a structured part of the school curriculum. Now we are dealing with cyber exploitation tomorrow it will be something else. Kids in grade seven or eight must be taught about this in school. That is the age when they start using instagram and snapchat. A lot of kids don’t know who is following them on instagram.”
The NCPA and BIllimoria added that girls like Maya were many, who were trapped by blackmail. There are many who suffer silently.
*Names are fictitious.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The government is contemplating a new law to regulate social media, particularly in a bid to curb posting of sexual images and defamatory material.
The move is to protect the privacy of individuals in the wake of a spate of complaints received by relevant authorities.
According to well informed sources, the Law Commission of Sri Lanka has closely studied existing laws in other …