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Survey: 1 in 20 Social Media Users Have Shared Nonconsensual Porn

Should we rethink what is typically meant by 'revenge porn'?

SEX
Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Jun 12, 2017 at 2:34 PM ET

So-called “revenge porn” is often painted as a rare, headline-making event — but a new report finds that it is surprisingly common. One in 20 social media users admit to having shared a sexually graphic image of another person without their permission, according to research by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI). What’s more, 1 in 8 of all survey respondents say that they themselves have been the victim of nonconsensual pornography.

“This study shows the horror that we’ve suspected all along—that [nonconsensual porn] is more prevalent than we thought,” said Holly Jacobs, founder of CCRI, a nonprofit advocating against online abuse, in a press release.

The report surveyed more than 3,000 Facebook users from across the U.S. about “revenge porn.” They found that 5.2 percent admitted to having ever shared “a sexually-explicit image of someone without their consent.” The vast majority, 79 percent, said they just wanted to share the image with friends and had no aim of hurting the person in question. This, of course, contradicts the name “revenge porn” itself, which implies that these images are shared by spurned exes. In reality, only 12 percent of people who shared images nonconsensually said they wanted to hurt the person in them.

Jacobs argues that this evidence makes a case for using a more inclusive term, like nonconsensual porn, to describe this phenomenon. “We’ve been seeing this first-hand in our victim support and advocacy work and now we have proof: a significant amount of nonconsensual porn is not perpetrated with the intent to harm,” she said.

The study does support one “revenge porn” stereotype, though: it is mostly perpetrated by men. Researchers found that men were twice as likely as women to have nonconsensually shared explicit images. Not too surprisingly, there are notable gender differences among victims, too. A stunning 15.8 percent of women reported having been a victim of, or threatened with, nonconsensual porn — that is nearly twice the rate for men. Overall, 12.8 percent of participants who said they had been either victims of nonconsensual porn or been threatened with having an image distributed against their will.

In the past, research has found the “revenge porn” phenomenon to be much smaller, with around 4 percent of internet users reporting having been victimized or threatened by nonconsensual porn — but those surveys have focused on cases involving intimate relationships. This survey instead looked at any nonconsensual sharing of explicit images. As Asia Eaton, the study’s director and a professor at Florida International University, explains, “once you expand the definition to include [nonconsensual porn] perpetrated for any reason by any person, using any method, that number increases.”

This doesn’t fit the sexy and simplistic media narrative around spurned exes, but it might offer up more effective ways to prevent nonconsensual porn in the future. Mary Anne Franks, the legislative and tech policy director at CCRI, says that is especially true when it comes to efforts to legislate against nonconsensual porn. As she told Vocativ, “Laws that only apply to perpetrators who intend to harm their victims will be useless for the majority of cases.”