Standing up to bullies – the legal implications of the disturbing rise of “creepshots” and “revenge porn”Posted on

Recent media coverage, particularly in the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2012/sep/22/creepshots-revenge-porn-paparazzi-women?CMP=twt_gu) reveals a worrying new trend in our society – the dissemination of “creepshots” and “revenge porn” online, ruining reputations and, often, lives.

To the uninitiated, creepshots are surreptitiously taken photographs, usually sexual in nature, mostly of women (often very young women) and revenge porn is a category of explicit photographs and videos, usually taken with consent at the time, (for private use in relationships) but later used to bully, intimidate or blackmail vulnerable individuals (again, largely young women).

Numerous forums have been set up for users to post such images and videos with the intention usually to violate, intrude and embarrass. It is often clear who the person photographed is and, in some of the worst cases, the photographs are linked to the victim’s social media pages to maximise public humiliation.

From a philosophical point of view one must ask what responsibility the mainstream media bears. Photographs of famous females suffering “wardrobe malfunctions” are not, as they should be, shelved in the Picture Editor’s offices but are instead published for the public’s titillation and the celebrity’s mortification.

In a world where a famous female’s private life can be turned upside down by a jealous ex (see Contostavlos-v-Medanhun and others) it is no surprise that the same happens in homes and (more worryingly) school yards up and down the country.

From a legal point of view, however, it is only a matter of time before justice catches up with a number of the aggressors who take pride and pleasure in such egregious acts. In the US, despite laws which are unfavourable to the plaintiff in cases involving the publication of information and photographs, a number of victims are fighting back.

A class action against the revenge porn site TEXXXAN.com is attracting national and international media attention (though legal commentators claim the suit may be flawed in US law) and the founder of IsAnyoneUp.com Hunter Moore last year closed his site and was ordered to pay $250,000 in defamation damages to anti-bullying campaigner James McGibney (after Tweeting about McGibney).

In 2011 Michael Brutsch was publicly “outed” by a journalist as the operator behind Reddit forums r/creepshots and r/jailbait. He was fired from his finance job within 24 hours. The latter forum was aimed at photos of young girls and the backlash against him in the US has been severe, although it was alarming (and somewhat hypocritical) to see that some felt Brutsch had a right to privacy himself whilst he violated others’ rights so blatantly.

The law in England and Wales is incredibly strong to protect victims. Brutsch would have had no right to privacy to hide his identity if he was a UK citizen. In the Nightjack case (see report) a serving police officer who blogged anonymously was held not to have any right to preserve his anonymity when he was undertaking the public pursuit of blogging. Any bully who wishes to anonymously but publicly abuse and ridicule people sexually will certainly have no right to maintain their anonymity.

Taking sexually explicit or suggestive photographs without consent and/or posting them online without consent (even if the victim posed for the photos originally) is a serious breach of the victim’s legal rights. It is a profoundly serious breach of privacy, in some circumstances a breach of copyright and often defamatory when accompanied by lies (such as the suggestion that the victim has herself posted them online or is seeking sexual partners) and will often amount to harassment when the actions are relentless and/or designed to cause harm. The victim would be entitled to an injunction to prevent further publication (and have the images removed from the internet) and the damages payable, where these invasions are so grotesque, are potentially very large. We would suggest that the £60,000 awarded to Max Mosley (after the News of the World’s publication of surreptitiously taken photographs of him) could easily be beaten when a victim is targeted in such a merciless fashion.

Harassment is, of course, both a criminal and a civil offence and creepshots are, of themselves, a criminal act of voyeurism as defined by section 67 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Further criminal considerations come into play when the victim is under the age of the consent. There are a depressing number of anecdotal examples of children aged between 13 and 15 sharing sexually explicit photographs (sometimes by coercion) and those photos then being placed online without consent. In such circumstances the aggressor is distributing child pornography – a serious offence that carries a punishment of up to 5 or 10 years.

It is reassuring that there are so many fightbacks at what appears to be a regression in women’s rights. The Twitter hashtag #everydaysexism (promoted at the www.everydaysexism.com project) has been both depressing and reassuring as the problem is discussed and tackled.

The theme of education is a consistent theme in this blog. This growing problem is the clearest example of where education is needed. This conduct ruins lives not just of the victim but also of the bully him/herself who can easily end up with a criminal record or be made bankrupt.

Education is essential and so is the need for victims to take a stand. Bullies need to be stood up to and acts like those described above are some of those rare occasions where litigation may be absolutely necessary to seek redress.

 

What do I do if I’m a victim?

  1. Collect evidence. Painful as it is you should take screengrabs of all of the postings. If the police are going to prosecute the individual, or you are going to sue him/her, evidence will be needed. Producing a carefully constructed folio will make the job of the police or your lawyer much easier.
  1. Contact the authorities. The police and/or counselling services can often be of assistance, particularly if it is clear who the aggressor is.
  1. Find out who is responsible. Sometimes the aggressor will try to cover his/her tracks but very often they will slip up and give away their identity. It is often possible to apply to court for orders against websites to reveal information they have about the individual (Norwich Pharmacal Orders). In some circumstances commercial websites and/or pornographic websites may use illegally obtained images. Google image searches allow you to search for what websites are hosting your picture (how to).
  1. Take action. Don’t suffer in silence. Speak to those you trust, get advice and, where necessary, take legal action to stop the individual in his/her tracks.

 

 

 

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