Revenge Porn Is Being Posted Under a Different Name

Campaigners say they have seen an increase in victims having their abuse packaged as "leaked" sex tapes.
December 15, 2020, 1:09pm
woman with head in her hands
Photo: Igorzvencom / Adobe Stock

The last seven days have been nothing short of monumental for the world’s most notorious porn website.

Yesterday, Pornhub announced that it will be deleting all content uploaded by unverified users. This came after last week’s statement explaining that only verified users will be able to post videos and that the site will expand its moderation efforts, followed by Thursday’s revelation that both Mastercard and Visa will stop processing payments to Pornhub.

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All of this is worth your attention, both because Pornhub now appears to have deleted the vast majority of its videos, and because of what it could mean for revenge porn – which is defined as any explicit content uploaded to the internet without the consent of the subject.

Previously, unverified Pornhub users could anonymously upload content with very few obstacles. However, verified accounts require users to submit photographs of themselves, adding a moderate level of accountability. While by no means bulletproof – The New York Times points out that verified users have uploaded footage of sexual assault in the past – the move should hopefully discourage the posting of revenge porn at a time when such measures are more necessary than ever.

Sophie Mortimer, manager of the UK Revenge Porn Helpline, said they have seen almost twice as many revenge porn cases in 2020 as last year. “Since the helpline opened, numbers have risen year on year, but this year has been something quite special,” she said. “April 2020 brought almost exactly double the cases seen in the same time last year.”

Kate Isaacs, founder of NotYourPorn – a campaign to regulate the porn industry and stop the dissemination of revenge porn – told VICE World News that this kind of content is now being shared under a different name: as “stolen” or “leaked” sex tapes. “The number of revenge porn victims coming forward who have had their abuse packaged up as 'leaked sex tapes' on major porn sites is growing every day,” she explained.

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Indeed, in August of 2020, a search on Pornhub for “stolen” videos yielded 191 results. Just four months later, in early December – prior to the site removing over 10 million videos uploaded by unverified accounts – there was a 331 percent increase in videos tagged or titled “stolen”.

It’s important to note that not all of these videos will be revenge porn, and that in many cases revenge porn will not be tagged as either “stolen” or “leaked”. Pornhub has also said it has “a steadfast commitment to eradicating and fighting non-consensual content”, and its new verified rules are a further effort to prevent revenge porn from being uploaded.

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A piece by artist Emmalene Blake on a wall in Dublin, protesting the fact there is still no legislation in Ireland outlawing revenge porn. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Still, Zara – an adult content creator and co-host of the Sex Sells podcast – warned that the mountain of unregulated explicit content on free porn sites throws up questions like, “Where’s the consent? Who shot this video?” Kate Isaacs agreed, saying “anyone can upload a video of anyone without their consent”, and that there are “absolutely no checks [around consent] in place before the content is uploaded”.

While Pornhub appears to be taking steps to remedy this, plenty of other popular websites are not. For instance, an uninspiring video of my hand covering my laptop camera now sits on Xvideos.com, the most visited porn website on the internet. To upload the clip, all I had to do was enter a username and an email address, and to write at least two tags, a title and a video description. I wasn’t asked to enter any information that could be traced back to me, potentially dissuading me from uploading certain content. The website didn’t mention consent once, but did warn against the uploading of spam. 

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I approached Xvideos for comment about this multiple times, but am yet to receive a response.

Xvideos specifies that it is a “hosting service for user-uploaded videos” and that it “cannot and [does] not manually review every video that is uploaded to the site”. If a video of you makes it past Xvideos’ lacklustre defences, your only option is to fill out a content removal form and wait for a notification informing you that the site has done what you’ve asked it to do. While you wait, a download button is available to anyone with an account, allowing them to permanently save the footage to their desktop. 

Sarah – who asked that we withhold her real name for privacy reasons – can vouch for how devastating it is to be a victim of this scenario. When she was 18, explicit photos and videos of her were sent to hundreds of people. “I had 400-plus messages calling me a whore, telling me to kill myself – and then I did try to kill myself,” she says. “Then someone took my videos from a forum and uploaded one to Pornhub. It was only up very briefly before I got it removed, but the fact is, it shouldn't have been able to go up at all.”

Afterwards, Sarah said, she became very insecure about her body and didn’t think anyone would ever want to be with her again. “The stigma was a killer more than anything,” she explained, adding that she has now worked through this self-doubt: “If you become a victim of this crime, your life is not over. This was something done to you – you’re never to blame.”

Unfortunately, as the increase of videos tagged “stolen” demonstrates, there is clearly an appetite for this kind of content, whether it’s staged or not.

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Dr James Cantor, psychotherapist and CEO of the Toronto Sexuality Centre, puts this down to the fact that, because of the damage it can inflict on its victims, revenge porn is about as taboo as you can get. “One of the key features that makes a scene hot to people is its naughtiness – including or hinting at taboo elements adds to the exhilaration,” he explained. “For both revenge porn and another popular taboo theme, sex between siblings or step-siblings, the added naughtiness comes from the set-up.”

The problem here is that while “step-sibling” videos are now being produced by major porn studios, with consenting adults paid to appear on camera, that’s not the case for any genuinely “stolen” content, where videos or images are uploaded without participants’ consent, potentially traumatising them.

You don’t need me to tell you that there is nothing hot or exhilarating about that. When I spoke to Megan Sims – a campaigner fighting to get anti-revenge porn laws implemented in Ireland – she said that in the previous few weeks, multiple people had told her how they had attempted suicide after becoming victims of revenge porn.

Pornhub’s announcement is a start, but there is still a lot of work to do. The vast majority of free tube sites provide almost no barriers to uploading content, and are frustratingly opaque when it comes to having that content removed. In practice, this means anyone can upload whatever they want, and the onus falls on the victim to clean up the mess it makes of their lives.

As Zara from the Sex Sells podcast says, “Porn isn't necessarily the problem; the problem is the way it's put out there.”