May 5, 2020 / 5:47 PM / a month ago

Revenge porn soars in Europe's coronavirus lockdown as student fights back

BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Revenge porn is surging across Europe under coronavirus lockdowns, with a doubling of cases reported in Britain on Tuesday, while a student campaigner in France has spent hours getting girls’ naked photos removed from the internet.

Women’s rights activists said they have witnessed a rise in online posts of intimate images of women and girls, usually by abusive partners or ex-partners who are stuck at home in front of a screen, with their lives upended by the new coronavirus.

“During lockdown and as the world moves online ... women and girls are exposed to higher risks,” said Johanna Nelles, executive secretary of the Istanbul Convention, a European treaty to prevent violence against women.

“Domestic violence is on the rise and many perpetrators also use new technologies to assert their power over their victim,” she said adding that the trend - as well as the fear, shame and anxiety felt by victims - was likely to outlast the pandemic.

Digital sex abuse has become a common feature of domestic abuse, as intimate partners threaten to share sexually explicit images without victims’ consent, human rights groups say, although many countries do not officially collect such data.

Britain’s state-funded Revenge Porn Helpline said on Tuesday it opened some 250 cases in April - a record number and double that of the previous April, despite only offering an email service during a nationwide lockdown that began on March 23.

CHILDREN

With schools shut, more children are spending time online where they risk being groomed and blackmailed over private photos of themselves.

“The perpetrators are at home more - and online more - looking for more victims,” said Carmela del Moral, head of children’s policies at Save the Children Spain.

“Increasingly children’s digital life is as important as their physical life ... we need to educate children more in the use of technology so that they understand what sending a photo implicates.”

Online platforms are needed so that children can report abuses more easily, as they are often uncomfortable using the phone, said Moral.

“In Spain, you can’t report this type of crime via the internet,” she said. “Often children and adolescents can’t go themselves to the police station to report a crime – and this is even more of a problem during confinement.”

SHAME

Shanley Clemot Maclaren, a French student, has spent hours tracking and reporting revenge porn after she noticed a surge in photos and videos of naked girls on social media, tagged with their names and the city where they live to identify them.

She estimates that at least 500 so-called “fisha” accounts - from the French verb afficher, meaning to shame - have emerged in France, since tight restrictions were introduced to combat the coronavirus in March.

Working together with a lawyer and about 20 friends, Clemot Maclaren has succeeded in getting more than 200 accounts deleted by reporting them to the social networks involved, the police and the interior ministry. Revenge porn is an offence in France.

After starting an online awareness campaign last month called #stopfisha to find victims and help them report abuse, she receives distressed messages from teens on a daily basis.

Online abuse can have serious consequences, often making victims feel suicidal, or getting beaten up by their brothers when they see the explicit content, the 21-year-old said.

“Once you get that label of a slut, it’s over,” she said, adding that the students would likely be harassed when they returned to school.

(This story corrects typo in byline)

Reporting by Sophie Davies; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org

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