Wednesday, 13 December 2017 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

GIVE THE GIFT OF
INDEPENDENCE

You're reading radically independent media that isn't compromised by politicians or private corporations.

But Truthout's survival depends on your support.

Help us keep exposing injustice in 2018: Make a tax-deductible donation right now.

Click here
to make a tax-deductible donation.

(Truthout is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit)

Young Women Mobilize Against "Revenge Porn" and Online Abuse

Friday, November 03, 2017 By Claudia Williams, openDemocracy | Report
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

In 2011, someone hacked into then 20-year old, University of Copenhagen student Emma Holten's email account. Her private photographs and personal information were stolen and uploaded onto the internet, for all to see, along with the message: "Ruin This Bitch's Life".

People around the world suddenly had access to naked images of Holten, her contact details, workplace, a Google street-view image of her house, and the names of family members. She received hundreds of sexually explicit messages, rape and death threats, and extortion attempts.

A form of sexual assault, 'revenge porn' -- sharing sexually explicit images without consent -- is also a crime against privacy, Holten told me. Now a digital human rights and feminist activist, she says such crimes depend "on social structures that devalue women's humanity."

I spoke with Holten following her talk at the #HerNetHerRights online conference earlier this month, organised by the European Women's Lobby (EWL), and funded by Google, which brought researchers, activists, survivors of online violence together.

During the conference, Holten said she still faces the consequences of her cyber attack on a daily basis, and continues to receive graphic abuse. It remains a factor in every decision she makes. She describes feeling "extremely vulnerable" in real life, as well as online.

Holten explained how such abuse is constantly reproduced on the internet. "Non-consensual pornography is never linear. It's not seven years ago that this happened to me -- if someone uploads it to a new site, it happened yesterday."

As a result, she said there is no space to gain distance or start healing. "In a way, I will forever be 17 years old, and naked in my boyfriend's bedroom."

While shocking, Holten's story is not unique. According to research released this year by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), cyber violence is a growing global problem, which disproportionately affects women and girls.

Such violence includes non-consensual pornography, or 'revenge porn', cyber stalking and sexual harassment. Misogynistic abuse may also combine with racism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of discrimination online.

Survivors have found little recourse in courts and official institutions. There have been several reports of suicide of victims. Many rely on the work of charities -- and young women across the world are starting to take action themselves.

Pierrette Pape is policy and campaigns director of the EWL, and coordinator of the #HerNetHerRights project, which aims to "take stock of the reality of online violence against women and girls."

"Activism gives the collective strength and opportunity to make policy and social change," Pape told me. "By building campaigns and mobilising their peers, young women want to make sure that society is respectful of their rights, offline and online."

The EIGE report describes an "inadequate" response to online violence from law and policy makers across Europe. In the UK -- considered an example of "good practice" -- of 1,160 cases of revenge porn reported in 2015, 61% saw no action taken.

Tech companies, including Google, have also been criticised for not doing enough to support victims or combat abuse.

Meanwhile, with each new tech development -- such as the option to live-broadcast on social media -- comes the possibility of new forms of cyber violence. This year, Facebook 'live' was used in widely-reported cases in Sweden and the US to share real-time, streaming footage of rape.

Negin Nazem Zorromodi is a 20 year old IT student and youth activist for girls, based in Stockholm. She told me that awareness of how cyberattacks happen -- including via spyware and 'keylogging' -- is the most powerful strategy against them.

At the #HerNetHerRights conference, she also talked about supporting girls who have experienced online crimes. "Our job is to listen and to make sure to tell them that it is never their fault," she said.

Some suggest that victims of online abuse 'simply' turn off their computers, or block perpetrators. Others insist that women have a human right to safe digital space and that internet access is a modern economic necessity.

It's also not easy to disconnect, or disrupt, online abuse. New accounts and domains can be made with ease. Online violence may be connected to offline violence. Internet harassment may be related to 'real life' domestic violence or bullying.

Zorromodi gave an example of a woman who found spyware -- which can secretly gather information, without your knowledge -- installed on her phone by an ex-partner. By blocking notifications, he had been controlling her real life relationships.

But young women around the world are also using the internet to develop grassroots or independent movements for their rights.

At the #HerNetHerRights conference, Sodfa Daaji, 24 -- an activist for women's rights in Italy and Tunisia, working with the Afrika Youth Movement and the EWL -- noted that the internet can play a positive role in enabling victims and activists to share stories and strategies.

This year, in response to the online racist and sexist "vitriol, recycled hate and scrutiny" received by British politician Diane Abbott, Sophie Duker, 27, organised a gofundme page for a "Diane Abbott Care Package". The 606 participants raised nearly £6,000.

In 2014, three years after she was hacked, Holten published an online essay and photo series entitled CONSENT. The images, taken by Danish photographer and activist Cecilie Bødker, show Holten in her home, in various states of nakedness.

Holten says the treatment of revenge porn victims is at odds with general societal attitudes towards sex in Denmark. "We talk extremely liberally about sexuality and nakedness…how could it be that a picture of a naked person was still so taboo?"

Non-consensual pornography, CONSENT highlights, is not about naked women. Attackers specifically want to share images without permission: it is the unwilling participation of victims which is considered erotic.

Holten told me: "I didn't really feel ashamed that people saw my breasts, but I felt ashamed that I hadn't got the right to decide."

The CONSENT project went viral. This year, Danish law changed, so that perpetrators of non-consensual pornography may face two years rather than six months in prison. "Victims will not meet the same world that I met," Holten believes.

As an activist, Holten says she finds speaking at high schools most effective, visiting three or four each week -- though notes that she does not find it productive to vilify young people who share non-consensual pictures.

In her experience, many participants in this abuse do not see it as such, but rather akin to a joke or "reality show". Humiliation, she believes, is core to much of the entertainment many young people consume.

"I think we have to look at the structures that have created children who gain respect in their social circles by being the best to ridicule other people," she told me. Online search algorithms, that prioritise popularity over content, also play a role, she added.

The person who hacked Holten's email account has never been identified. Her activism against online abuse has "an incredible sadness connected to it," she said, but: "channeling that sadness into criticism has been basic for my survival."

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Claudia Williams

Claudia Williams is a writer and researcher. She recently finished an MA in African, Middle Eastern and South Asian History at SOAS, University of London. She specializes in gender, sexuality and religion. Follow her on Twitter @claudiabromley.

GET DAILY TRUTHOUT UPDATES
Optional Member Code

FOLLOW togtorsstottofb


Young Women Mobilize Against "Revenge Porn" and Online Abuse

Friday, November 03, 2017 By Claudia Williams, openDemocracy | Report
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

In 2011, someone hacked into then 20-year old, University of Copenhagen student Emma Holten's email account. Her private photographs and personal information were stolen and uploaded onto the internet, for all to see, along with the message: "Ruin This Bitch's Life".

People around the world suddenly had access to naked images of Holten, her contact details, workplace, a Google street-view image of her house, and the names of family members. She received hundreds of sexually explicit messages, rape and death threats, and extortion attempts.

A form of sexual assault, 'revenge porn' -- sharing sexually explicit images without consent -- is also a crime against privacy, Holten told me. Now a digital human rights and feminist activist, she says such crimes depend "on social structures that devalue women's humanity."

I spoke with Holten following her talk at the #HerNetHerRights online conference earlier this month, organised by the European Women's Lobby (EWL), and funded by Google, which brought researchers, activists, survivors of online violence together.

During the conference, Holten said she still faces the consequences of her cyber attack on a daily basis, and continues to receive graphic abuse. It remains a factor in every decision she makes. She describes feeling "extremely vulnerable" in real life, as well as online.

Holten explained how such abuse is constantly reproduced on the internet. "Non-consensual pornography is never linear. It's not seven years ago that this happened to me -- if someone uploads it to a new site, it happened yesterday."

As a result, she said there is no space to gain distance or start healing. "In a way, I will forever be 17 years old, and naked in my boyfriend's bedroom."

While shocking, Holten's story is not unique. According to research released this year by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), cyber violence is a growing global problem, which disproportionately affects women and girls.

Such violence includes non-consensual pornography, or 'revenge porn', cyber stalking and sexual harassment. Misogynistic abuse may also combine with racism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of discrimination online.

Survivors have found little recourse in courts and official institutions. There have been several reports of suicide of victims. Many rely on the work of charities -- and young women across the world are starting to take action themselves.

Pierrette Pape is policy and campaigns director of the EWL, and coordinator of the #HerNetHerRights project, which aims to "take stock of the reality of online violence against women and girls."

"Activism gives the collective strength and opportunity to make policy and social change," Pape told me. "By building campaigns and mobilising their peers, young women want to make sure that society is respectful of their rights, offline and online."

The EIGE report describes an "inadequate" response to online violence from law and policy makers across Europe. In the UK -- considered an example of "good practice" -- of 1,160 cases of revenge porn reported in 2015, 61% saw no action taken.

Tech companies, including Google, have also been criticised for not doing enough to support victims or combat abuse.

Meanwhile, with each new tech development -- such as the option to live-broadcast on social media -- comes the possibility of new forms of cyber violence. This year, Facebook 'live' was used in widely-reported cases in Sweden and the US to share real-time, streaming footage of rape.

Negin Nazem Zorromodi is a 20 year old IT student and youth activist for girls, based in Stockholm. She told me that awareness of how cyberattacks happen -- including via spyware and 'keylogging' -- is the most powerful strategy against them.

At the #HerNetHerRights conference, she also talked about supporting girls who have experienced online crimes. "Our job is to listen and to make sure to tell them that it is never their fault," she said.

Some suggest that victims of online abuse 'simply' turn off their computers, or block perpetrators. Others insist that women have a human right to safe digital space and that internet access is a modern economic necessity.

It's also not easy to disconnect, or disrupt, online abuse. New accounts and domains can be made with ease. Online violence may be connected to offline violence. Internet harassment may be related to 'real life' domestic violence or bullying.

Zorromodi gave an example of a woman who found spyware -- which can secretly gather information, without your knowledge -- installed on her phone by an ex-partner. By blocking notifications, he had been controlling her real life relationships.

But young women around the world are also using the internet to develop grassroots or independent movements for their rights.

At the #HerNetHerRights conference, Sodfa Daaji, 24 -- an activist for women's rights in Italy and Tunisia, working with the Afrika Youth Movement and the EWL -- noted that the internet can play a positive role in enabling victims and activists to share stories and strategies.

This year, in response to the online racist and sexist "vitriol, recycled hate and scrutiny" received by British politician Diane Abbott, Sophie Duker, 27, organised a gofundme page for a "Diane Abbott Care Package". The 606 participants raised nearly £6,000.

In 2014, three years after she was hacked, Holten published an online essay and photo series entitled CONSENT. The images, taken by Danish photographer and activist Cecilie Bødker, show Holten in her home, in various states of nakedness.

Holten says the treatment of revenge porn victims is at odds with general societal attitudes towards sex in Denmark. "We talk extremely liberally about sexuality and nakedness…how could it be that a picture of a naked person was still so taboo?"

Non-consensual pornography, CONSENT highlights, is not about naked women. Attackers specifically want to share images without permission: it is the unwilling participation of victims which is considered erotic.

Holten told me: "I didn't really feel ashamed that people saw my breasts, but I felt ashamed that I hadn't got the right to decide."

The CONSENT project went viral. This year, Danish law changed, so that perpetrators of non-consensual pornography may face two years rather than six months in prison. "Victims will not meet the same world that I met," Holten believes.

As an activist, Holten says she finds speaking at high schools most effective, visiting three or four each week -- though notes that she does not find it productive to vilify young people who share non-consensual pictures.

In her experience, many participants in this abuse do not see it as such, but rather akin to a joke or "reality show". Humiliation, she believes, is core to much of the entertainment many young people consume.

"I think we have to look at the structures that have created children who gain respect in their social circles by being the best to ridicule other people," she told me. Online search algorithms, that prioritise popularity over content, also play a role, she added.

The person who hacked Holten's email account has never been identified. Her activism against online abuse has "an incredible sadness connected to it," she said, but: "channeling that sadness into criticism has been basic for my survival."

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Claudia Williams

Claudia Williams is a writer and researcher. She recently finished an MA in African, Middle Eastern and South Asian History at SOAS, University of London. She specializes in gender, sexuality and religion. Follow her on Twitter @claudiabromley.