The incorporation of internet technologies into society, the massive and rapid spread of information and the extensive use of social media have not only reinforced existing forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG), but have also created new instruments to harm and control them. With the use of digital technology, VAWG has expanded and intensified, causing adverse consequences for women’s autonomy over their bodies, voices and economic opportunities. One of the most harmful ways Internet is used is Technology-Facilitated Sexual Violence (TFSV), which particularly concerns the distribution of Non-Consensual Intimate Imagery (NCII).
The dissemination of non-consensual intimate imagery, also referred to as image-based sexual abuse (IBSA) or more commonly known by its controversial term “revenge pornography”, is the act of distributing an image or video online without the consent of one or more persons involved in the image or video. This includes both sexual content that were obtained consensually as well as non-consensually (for example, through hacking). In some cases, the victim is recorded without their knowledge or is coerced into taking intimate photos or videos. In other cases, the person consensually sends the images to their partners, who distribute them for different reasons: sometimes to punish the victim when they have broken up and sometimes just ‘for fun’.
90% of victims of the distribution of NCII are women, who are disproportionally targeted and threatened by male perpetrators in different spaces of the web (forums, chat groups, webpages, social media), a glaring figure that shows us how this phenomenon should be considered primarily as gender-based violence. According to a study done in the UK, there were 1.160 reported incidents of NCII, to which only 11% of the reported incident resulted in the perpetrator being charged, 7% got police caution and 5% got community resolution. Furthermore, in 61% of the offenses, no action was taken against the suspect, due to lack of evidence according to the police, and the victims dropping the case.
NCII causes survivors major psychological damage such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. It makes them feel betrayed, exposed and humiliated. In some cases, the perpetrator includes their full name, email address, telephone number, and sometimes their address next to their intimate images (something know as doxing). This results in survivors being harassed and threatened online and it makes them fearful of physical attacks. Furthermore, NCII can lead the victim to lose their job, and be ostracized from their family, friends, and community.
Although NCII is frequently referred to as “revenge porn”, there are multiple reasons why this term is considered to be problematic. One of the issues of the term is the word “revenge”, which would insinuate that the perpetrator is only distributing the intimate content of the victim because the victim did something towards them which warranted this kind of response from the perpetrator. This further contributes to the culture of victim-shaming, as it makes it seems as if the victim deserves to be humiliated. The second half of the term is also very problematic. Pornography is sexually explicit content made with the purpose to cause sexual arousal. Calling intimate content meant for private relationships pornographic can harm the victims as it makes it seem as if they are consenting adult actors. On some of these adult film sites, they post amateur pornography which can look very similar to an intimate video meant for private use. Furthermore, giving it a name like this implies that it should be a category on these adult websites and NCII should never be used for entertainment purposes.
When people think of “revenge pornography” they think about an ex-boyfriend posting the images of their ex-girlfriend, and that is not always the case. Although this is a common occurrence, the term itself is being used as an umbrella term and does not encompass all the ways NCII can occur. Other cases should also be taken into consideration when talking about NCII. Furthermore, the term has led to legislations that only focused on the motive being of vengeful nature rather than the consent of the victim, for example in Italy.
NCII is considered to be gender-based violence, as the majority of the victims are often women, and the perpetrators are often men. One of the areas of expertise at Cyber Rights Organization is online gendered-based violence. We combat online gendered-based violence by trying to inform people on the subject and by assisting victims. We assist by evaluating each case and coming up with a solution by conducting an investigation, research, and digital forensics. If you or someone you know is a victim of NCII, contact us immediately.
Written by Ashny Young
 European Women’s Lobby (2018). ‘Her Net, Her Rights’. Available at: https://www.womenlobby.org/IMG/pdf/hernetherrights_report_2017_for_web.pdf
 Karasavva and Forth (2021). ‘Personality, Attitudinal, and Demographic Predictors of Nonconsensual Dissemination of Intimate Images’. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/08862605211043586
 Eaton et al., 2017. Nationwide Online Study of Non-consensual Porn Victimization and Perpetration. Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. Available at: https://www.cybercivilrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/CCRI-2017-Research-Report.pdf
 McGlynn and Rackley (2016). ‘Image-based sexual abuse: More than ‘revenge porn’’. Available at: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-artslaw/law/research/bham-law-spotlight-IBSA.pdf
 End Cyber-Abuse. ‘Image-based sexual abuse: an introduction’. Available at: https://endcyberabuse.org/law-intro/
 Maddocks (2019). ‘5 important reasons why we should not call it revenge porn’. https://genderit.org/articles/5-important-reasons-why-we-should-not-call-it-revenge-porn