Revenge Porn Victims On How It Feels to Find Your Nudes Online

We spoke to four gay men whose personal photos were posted to a "disturbingly cruel" website.

|
Nov 8 2018, 11:10am

Illustration: Charlotte Mei

"At first I wasn't too bothered," says Dan. "It was just a picture of my penis and somebody else's penis, and there was no face in it. I just thought, 'Well, nice picture – it could be worse.'"

That was until the 29-year-old read through the comments underneath the picture, uploaded anonymously to a website that encourages its users to post explicit photos and videos of men. Numerous commenters were convinced that – desperate for attention and validation – Dan had posted the photo himself. "I start work at 8AM and finish at 6:30PM," he says now. "What – do you think I have time to embarrass myself on the internet? I can do that on Twitter, thanks."

Revenge porn has traditionally been viewed as an offence carried out on women, by men – and for good reason. From July to December of 2017, in 92 percent of the cases reported to Police Scotland, victims were women. In the vast majority of high profile cases where naked photos have been uploaded without the subject's consent – Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Emily Ratajkowski, every other celebrity targeted in the "Fappening" leak – the victim has been a woman.

However, other studies point to a more even split in the gender of victims. A 2016 survey in the US found that, despite women being threatened with revenge porn considerably more often than men, men and women "are equally likely to have sensitive photos posted" online without their consent. A 2017 study in Australia came to the same conclusion: that men and women are equally likely to be victims.

What both studies also found is that LGB people are disproportionately affected, with the US researchers concluding that lesbian, gay and bisexual people are four times more likely to become victims of revenge porn. Dan is one of four gay men I spoke to whose nude images have been shared online without their knowledge or consent. All four men are from England and Wales, where revenge porn is illegal. All four had their photos posted to the same website, which – as Pink News reported earlier this year – is "disturbingly cruel in its conduct with gay men". That was February, and the site is still going strong.

my ex dot com
Myex.com, a now-shuttered revenge porn website. Photo: Martyn Evans / Alamy Stock Photo

"I had about ten messages from people I follow, saying that a thread about me had been made – and instantly I started panicking and having an anxiety attack," says Aaron, 34, from Cardiff. Aaron was left wracking his brain as to who the anonymous uploader could be – and who could even have any sensitive images of him to post, besides an ex.

"It made me feel very conscious of my relationship," says 28-year-old Danny from London, "and how any potential pictures might make my boyfriend feel. While everyone has a past, no one necessarily expects it to become public like that."

Jai, a 35-year-old Londoner, found seeing himself on the website "gross". He was aware these sorts of things happened, but says, "You don't realise actually how creepy people can be until you're faced with the evidence." It made him wonder whether people he interacts with regularly have had a hand in this sort of thing, and just managed to cover their tracks well.

For those of you who weren't aware that these sorts of things happen, a quick primer: this site, and many others like it, host forums where users post social media pictures of someone, before asking if anyone else has anything more explicit. One of the more notorious ones, Anon-IB, was closed down in April of this year by the Dutch National Police after a year-long investigation – but, know where to look, and it's not hard to find alternatives.

The website – which we aren't naming – where the four men I spoke to found their photos appears to have been created to share explicit videos and images of famous men. However, non-celebrities also appear regularly, and the four guys mostly fit the mould of the non-famous men targeted most often: young, London-based, attractive and popular on Twitter (the number of their followers ranges from 5,000 to 12,000).

"It's a consent issue," says Dan. "I'm not a celebrity, but I think it's part of the whole culture of people feeling it's OK for paparazzi to track people down and take their pictures. And now they're coming for non-famous people who have a lot of followers [on social media]." Jai agrees: "People generally seem to have issues understanding how consent works – those sorts who get very handsy in clubs, for instance – and this is a logical conclusion of that ignorance. Some probably think that it's flattering or complimentary. Guess what? It's not."

They might understand the context, but none of the four men get the specifics: why they, of all people, ended up on the site. "Maybe I've disgruntled [someone]?" Dan says. "Maybe I've rejected their advances? Maybe I didn't reply to a comment?" The not knowing is incredibly disconcerting. "It's basically revenge porn," says Danny, "but without the motive."

As soon as he discovered that his image had been posted, Danny contacted the moderator directly and asked them to remove the photos, as he hadn't consented to them being shared. Problem is, the truth with websites like this is that there's no way to guarantee your photo won't be uploaded again. "There's the potential for a Hydra situation," says Danny, "in that you get one post removed and people anonymously create more."

Danny kept an eye on the site to ensure that exact scenario didn't happen, and in doing so saw photos of his friends posted up and commented upon – leading to a couple of awkward conversations in which he had to make them aware.

The other three guys explained that, to have their images removed, they had to take photos of themselves holding a piece of paper with their email address written on it and send that to the admin with their request, to prove it was in fact them making the request. Aaron, who was in hospital when he found out his photo had been uploaded, was unable to immediately request its removal. Dan's thread disappeared before he could send his request – but, as Danny warned, another one soon popped up.

So, is there any long-term way to deal with this? Dan says another victim sent him a crime reference number after his image appeared on the same website, and he hopes that the police will take action if they receive enough complaints. Even so, depending on where it's registered, the website might not fall under the cash-strapped UK police's jurisdiction. Plus, there's not exactly a strong record for this kind of thing: of the many, many revenge porn websites and forums, only three high profile pages – Is Anyone Up, myex.com and Anon-IB – have been successfully shut down. And then there's that Hydra problem to contend with: shut one down and another will appear.

For Aaron and Dan, it now comes down to personal policing: both find themselves thinking more about what they post, and where. "I definitely won’t be sending anything to people in the future," says Aaron.

Jai says he won't stop taking pictures of himself and sharing them: "I long ago made peace with the fact that if you put these things out there, they may appear where you don't expect them. However, this does not excuse the behaviour – these creeps target people and try all sorts of subterfuge to get pictures, catfish them, share phone numbers, spread spiteful gossip. It's malicious and vile and needs to stop. This is symptomatic of a problem with a minority of people, who – like those who take non-consensual pictures of people in public [Tubecrush, etc] – like to perv on people and take away their agency. It's not on."

As Dan, who works in a school, points out, they're putting people's jobs at risk – and "they" are likely gay men targeting other gay men. "We're all part of the gay community," he says, "we should have some solidarity – but give them one chance and they'll tear you down."

More VICE
Vice Channels