Cyber Rape. Revenge Porn.

rape

Women exposed online in more ways than one.

At first, there was a Facebook message. The man was polite; he paid an awkward compliment: “You’re pretty and you have a nice body.” Then he asked to be added as a ‘friend.’ But, the sender was a stranger so Sarah Johnson* politely declined.

Dozens of messages followed from other strange men. Each message was increasingly less polite and more embarrassing. Some made vulgar comments; others explained how they came across her Facebook page, by seeing naked pictures of her on a ‘revenge porn’ website.

“They just asked me a question, ‘Can you send me more?’ And I replied, ‘This is not who I am. This wasn’t done with my consent and I’m not going to give you any more pictures,’” explains Ms. Johnson.

The harassment began October 2012. It was a nightmare. The northwest suburban professional, in her mid-30s, never imagined she’d find herself in this position. She built up the courage and went to the site.

“I was stunned,” shares Ms. Johnson. “This is the worst betrayal that can happen to someone.” Stunned, but not surprised, Ms. Johnson knew what the pictures would look like because she took them herself. She only sent them to one person, an ex-boyfriend. The relationship ended almost a year before the pictures were posted.

“At the time, I thought this person was the one,” explains Ms. Johnson. I thought we’d get married. I never thought he would’ve done this to me. After that, more and more people tried to add me on Facebook. I was totally embarrassed and afraid that people I knew were going to see [the pictures].”

What happened to Ms. Johnson is a phenomenon known as ‘cyber rape’ or ‘revenge porn.’ And women are the overwhelming majority of victims. Angry exes take naked pictures and post them on websites anonymously. In addition to the victim’s body being exposed, often her full name, phone number and current city are posted. There may also be a screen shot of her Facebook page.

“This is all about sexually shaming women who’ve rejected men,” says Sharmili Majmudar, executive director, Rape Victim Advocates. Ms. Majmudar sees cyber rape as a trend that leads to increased violence against women. While it doesn’t involve physical contact, the experienced rape counselor sees it as intimidation, harassment and stalking. “This isn’t a joke; it’s way beyond that. It’s sexual violence,” says Ms. Majmudar.

While some may believe cyber rape is immoral, it’s not illegal in Illinois. According to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, there are no state laws that prevent the posting of adult pictures online. But that hasn’t stopped attempts at civil suits.

A recent case involving revenge porn site www.Texxxan.com has dozens of Texas women filing a class action lawsuit. They allege the posting of their pictures without their consent caused them humiliation and emotional distress. But it’s a legal long shot, according to most experts. A federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, provides legal protection from liability for people who operate websites considered to be interactive.

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Frank_Holland

About Frank Holland

Joining WGN News/WGN Morning News as a reporter/anchor in September 2011, Frank Holland previously worked for WDIV-NBC in Detroit, Michigan, New 12 in Westchester, New York, WMGM-NBC in Atlantic City, New Jersey, TV2-FOX in the U.S. Virgin Islands and KTVF-NBC and KUAC-PBS in Fairbanks, Alaska.