Trigger warning: 

The following article contains discussions regarding sexual violence, assault and non-consensual pornography, which some readers may find disturbing or traumatizing. Viewer discretion is advised.

The surge of interconnectedness through online platforms boasts advancements in information and media expression, encapsulating a large portion of our daily lives. However, within this arena of digital wonders lurks a clandestine corner of unsettling media at the hands of common netizens. Cyberviolence takes many forms and one of them is revenge porn, otherwise known as non-consensual pornography, which has amassed into a complex societal issue affecting individuals worldwide. Although cyberviolence affects both men and women alike, there is a disproportionate tendency towards women, with 90% of victims constituting women. Youths are also the primary victims of this crime, mainly affecting those between aged 18 to 29 years old.

What is revenge porn?

Revenge porn is the distribution and sharing of explicit media on online platforms without consent from the person in the images or videos, aimed at publicly humiliating or distressing the individual concerned. These include recorded images throughout a relationship, hidden recordings, recordings of sexual assault, as well as stolen recordings. However, revenge porn can also be in other forms such as deepfakes, hidden camera photos, or upskirt photos which are not created by the victim.

The most commonly known perpetrators of this crime are partners or former partners who obtain illicit recordings as a means of seeking revenge against the victim for terminating a relationship, but revenge porn can be committed by other individuals as well as strangers — even without the intent of revenge. These recordings are often paired with personal information regarding the victim, such as their name, age, contact information and domicile. This eventually leads to the exposure of their personal data which impacts their daily security due to ensuing cyber violence and harassment in real life from third parties. 

Victims can also be targeted by hackers who steal these images or videos as well as sensitive personal data on online platforms as a way of compromising their privacy and creating distress. A case in point would be that of a 29-year-old Illinois man who hacked over 500 celebrities’ online storage accounts through phishing attacks and published them without their consent in 2016. Some hackers also illegally obtain webcam footage of victims by installing malware on their devices to extort victims by using the footage as blackmail.

These illegal recordings are usually published en masse on websites and expose groups — private group chats dedicated to propagating explicit photos and videos that are leaked. In fact, Malaysia is no stranger to this occurrence, with the uproar regarding the V2K incident in 2020, whereby a Telegram group chat consisting of approximately 40,000 members shared images and videos of social media users without their consent. More recently, another similar Telegram group with nearly 30,000 members was made known to be sharing unsolicited pictures of women. 

Facebook groups are another hub for the distribution of revenge porn, with perpetrators posting non-consensual images or recordings of the victims along with what are called “lay reports”: a detailed write up of the encounter. Nevertheless, Meta recently announced the launch of a reporting tool that enables users to submit unique identifiers to a tech platform should they suspect that an image or video of themselves have been reshared. The main objective of this tool is to prevent further propagation of the recordings and prompt deletion of revenge porn. 

Is revenge porn a crime?

Yes, it is. In Malaysia, the possession or distribution of pornographic materials is sanctionable under Section 292 of the Malaysian Penal Code, making one liable for up to 3 years of jail, or fine, or both. Online distribution is also addressed under Section 211(1) of the Communications and Media Act 1998., with violations leading to a fine of RM 50,000, a year of imprisonment, or both. 

However, many individuals are faced with the threat of revenge porn, without it being committed just yet. Such intent and threats are actually already in violation of Section 509 of the Malaysian Penal Code which states that:

“Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any person, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen by such person, or intrudes upon the privacy of such person, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years or with fine or with both.”

Extortion under the threat of posting non-consensual images and videos is also sanctionable under Section 383 of the Penal Code, with violations resulting in imprisonment up to 10 years, fine, whip, or any of the aforementioned two.

What are the impacts on the victim?

In truth, the perverse actions of perpetrators of revenge porn is extremely debilitating for victims and has devastating impacts on their personal life. Having one’s personal photos and videos publicly circulated without your knowledge is an invasion that undermines your control and is an outright violation of your right to personal privacy.

Having one’s trust betrayed by a loved one whom you should be able to depend upon for your personal life undoubtedly shifts one’s perspective on future relationships, with victims expressing a general loss of trust. This loss of trust constitutes not only romantic relationships, but extends to other relationships in their life. As such, this can be said to be a major contributor to their anxiety and depression which can be attributed to their feelings of not having anyone they can fully depend upon. These feelings can also manifest into obsessions regarding revictimization, with some constantly checking online platforms in case their photos and videos are reposted.

Moreover, the publicisation of these recordings without one’s permission leads to a loss of control over their body and life, and that trauma can lead to a feeling that one’s agency is being ripped away from them. This is especially relevant to those whose social circles are aware of the propagation of these photos and videos, leading to a tarnished reputation, of which they may feel unable to redeem themselves from. The circulation of the videos can also directly impact their daily lives, resulting in job unemployment, expulsion from school and in some dire cases forcing victims to change their name. 

What to do if you become a victim of revenge porn

Figuring out what to do when you are targeted can be daunting, especially when panic over the situation surges, but here are some steps you can take to handle the issue:

  1. Collect any evidence

It is vital that you have evidence of what occurred to aid in strengthening your case when seeking legal action against the perpetrator. The evidence that you can include is the date, time and location, details regarding the perpetrator, additional details regarding the occurrence, screenshots of the messages, alongside relevant websites, photos or videos.

  1. Seek out support from available resources

Getting through the situation can be distressing and tiring to experience alone, so seeking out help and information from trusted resources can facilitate the process. Some local non-governmental organisations that specialise in combating cyberviolence by compiling cases include EMPOWER and People ACT.

  1. Request for online platforms or websites to take down the images or videos

When you have all the evidence compiled, you can request for the images or videos to be deleted if it is specified that they have been posted without your consent. By contacting the administrators of the online platforms directly, it may be possible to hinder further propagation of the media. 

  1. Lodge a police report

Should the situation escalate further or if you feel unsafe, lodging an official police report may be the next step. Doing so will involve further investigation from the authorities, who may view this as a criminal issue and therefore assist you in matters such as compiling evidence.

Ultimately, tackling revenge porn is a complicated issue due to potential difficulties in tracing the source of the distribution, but reporting these crimes when it comes to your attention is essential to hold perpetrators accountable for their twisted actions and protecting the people around us, even if it is someone we do not know. Holding our silence will only prolong another’s suffering and enable these perverse offenders to continue operating. Regardless of how impersonal an image or a video of a stranger on online platforms may seem to be, our brief moment of compassion can prevent or at least limit the damage of a person’s life.

For further information, you can refer to: https://cdn.lb.my/sites/9/20180126161758/download_eng_toolkit.pdf

By: Julia Rosalyn

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