By Walter S. DeKeseredy, co-author of Abusive Endings: Separation and Divorce Violence against Women
Ample scientific evidence supports the claim that technology is routinely used to commit a variety of crimes, such as the distribution of child pornography. Yet, until recently the bulk of the research on the “dark side” of new technologies either ignored or overlooked the fact that the Internet is now a tool used by many men to seriously harm the women who leave them or who want to leave them.
This is one of the key reasons why Molly Dragiewicz, Martin D. Schwartz and I wrote Abusive Endings. Image-based sexual abuse is one of a number of new electronic means of inflicting pain that we devote considerable attention to. Often referred to as revenge porn, there is a huge worldwide audience for such imagery. Regardless of which term or definition one prefers, the pictures and videos are typically made by men with the consent of the women they were intimately involved with, but then distributed online without their consent following women’s termination of a relationship.
Few studies to date have actually measured the extent of image-based sexual abuse, but some researchers estimate that there are now more than 3,000 online sites and the bulk of perpetrators who post on them are male ex-husbands, ex-boyfriends, and ex-lovers.
The harm-done by image-based sexual abuse is often irreparable as demonstrated by Holly Jacobs’ experiences. She is the founder of the advocacy group End Revenge Porn and her boyfriend hacked into her Facebook profile and posted sexually explicit images for relatives and friends to see prior to disseminating more material through revenge porn sites and e-mailing material to her employers. Revenge porn sites were then used by groups of men to harass and abuse her. Consequently, she had to legally change her name, stop going to academic conferences, change jobs and her phone number, and endure other major traumatic hardships.
This electronic type of separation/divorce violence will likely get worse. There is no particular reason to believe that men are reducing their use of sexist, racist, homophobic comments, or verbal attacks. Certainly, this is nothing new. For years, men have being making these remarks in public places. The difference is that today that the same comments, together with hurtful sexual imagery, can gain a wider audience than a few men who happen to be present. Thousands of people can view pictures that were posted without men’s ex-partners’ consent and they will stay on the Internet forever. With the constant stream of new technologies, it is easy for gender-related offenses inflicted by some new invention to take place.
There is, however, some good news. At the time of writing this blog, 36 states have revenge porn laws. Of those that do not, many respond to image-based sexual abuse through other criminal statutes such as laws forbidding harassment, extortion, and stalking. The creation of laws targeting image-based sexual abuse may serve as a powerful deterrent and thus reduce much pain and suffering.
Walter S. DeKeseredy is Anna Deane Carlson Endowed Chair of Social Sciences, Director of the Research Center on Violence, and Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at West Virginia University. In addition to being the co-author of Abusive Endings with Molly Dragiewicz and Martin D. Schwartz, he is also co-author of Dangerous Exits: Escaping Abusive Relationships in Rural America with Martin D. Schwartz. Walter has received major awards from divisions of the American Society of Criminology for his work on violence against women.