The Scoop: Perhaps after a breakup, your ex shared private photos taken while you were in the relationship. Or maybe you met someone online who blackmailed you with intimate images taken without your knowledge. No matter the case, UK-based Revenge Porn Helpline aids victims of revenge porn whether they need someone to talk to or want to report their situation to law enforcement. The organization offers advice and resources, posts articles, and answers questions to show victims of revenge porn that they’re not alone or helpless.

If your relationship goes sour, you don’t want to worry about your private images being shared without your consent. But, unfortunately, revenge porn is on the rise.

A 2020 study reveals that a significant percentage of people in Australia, the U.K., and New Zealand has been affected by revenge porn, also known as image-based sexual abuse. In the three countries where the study took place, 1 in 3 respondents said they had had their nude images shared without their consent.

Notably, the individuals affected by this abuse were not always women victimized by their former partners. Men are also victims of revenge porn. They can get caught up in online sex fraud scams and be unknowingly recorded in sexual situations. Then, the abuser blackmails them not to release the content online.

Though many share images voluntarily in their relationships, others have illicit photos or videos taken without their consent. So, the familiar concept of revenge porn doesn’t account for all aspects of this problem.

The Revenge Porn Helpline logo

Revenge Porn Helpline offers resources and support for victims.

“The more cases we’ve had and the more people I’ve spoken to, the more I recognize the range of behaviors going on,” said Sophie Mortimer, the Manager of Revenge Porn Helpline, a UK organization that helps victims cope with their situations and alert the authorities.

Revenge Porn Helpline was developed to aid those abused by revenge porn in healing and seeking help. Not only does the Helpline offer victims a phone line and email to contact, but it also provides plenty of information and resources.

“We provide all the information someone would need. Some people don’t want to talk to anyone directly. When someone comes to the site, they can visit the How We Can Help section. There, we break down the sorts of things we see so they can get the advice they need,” Sophie said.

Revenge Porn Stems From Many Different Situations

When Sophie started working at the Helpline, she soon realized that revenge porn was a more varied problem than she understood. Though she’d known about one type of revenge porn where partners shared intimate images after the end of a relationship, she hadn’t realized how many other situations existed.

“Many people believed that this came out of moments of distress or lashing out. Actually, there are short- and long-term extortion campaigns, domestic abuse, harassment, and stalking,” Sophie said.

Photo of Revenge Porn Helpline Manager Sophie Mortimer

Sophie Mortimer, Manager of Revenge Porn Helpline, spoke with us about the organization’s mission.

For instance, women are increasingly being targeted by so-called romance scams. They think they’re developing a relationship with someone online for weeks or months. Once they feel comfortable, they share intimate images, only to have these images extorted for money.

Regardless of how it comes about, revenge porn has many consequences. Private images can be shared online and then shared again, trapping the victim in a cycle they can’t escape. Sometimes, if these images are discovered by employers, victims can lose their reputations, jobs, or even long-time careers.

That was how Revenge Porn Helpline came to be in the first place. A helpline for children received a lot of calls from teachers saying their former partners, blackmailers, or stalkers were sharing intimate images of them without their consent. They were losing their jobs when the images were discovered, and they didn’t know where to turn.

At the same time, the British government had criminalized the sharing of intimate images without consent. But the trouble was that it isn’t easy to track image-sharing online.

That was the climate in which Revenge Porn Helpline launched in 2016. Today, the helpline operates out of Exeter, a small town two hours outside of London.

A Problem That Must Be Taken Seriously

Domestic abuse services didn’t always take revenge porn seriously. Today revenge porn is considered a form of sexual abuse. It has been a criminal offense punishable by up to two years imprisonment in England and Wales since 2015.

“Revenge porn is just another tool in an abuser’s toolbox,” said Sophie.

What’s more, as the earlier study mentioned, the number of revenge porn victims has increased over time. According to Sophie, those who report — or even admit to being victims of — revenge porn are only the tip of the iceberg.

To protect yourself from revenge porn, even if you’re in a committed relationship, the helpline recommends taking the following steps:

  • Communicate over platforms that don’t allow users to take videos or photos without your consent.
  • Don’t show any of your identifying features, including your face, birthmarks, or tattoos, if you do send explicit images.
  • Add filters that hide your background and features.
  • Consider other ways of being sexual with your partner that don’t include video or photos.

Sophie and her team also hope to expand public perception of what constitutes revenge porn. Victims aren’t only women, and they’re not just tormented by their ex-partners. Furthermore, those illicit images aren’t always provided willingly in the first place; they are sometimes taken without the victim’s knowledge.

The public needs to expand its perception of revenge porn because it is already a widespread problem.

“This affects people of all genders and all ages,” said Sophies.

As technology becomes more sophisticated, the Revenge Porn Helpline team said it believes that intimidation tactics will only worsen.

Screenshot of Revenge Porn Helpline banner

Anyone can call Revenge Porn Helpline to ask questions and receive assistance.

To combat the technology used by abusers, the Revenge Porn Helpline team plans to fight it using Facebook technology. Right now, victims and advocates must search for images manually, a process that is both difficult and not always complete.

However, Facebook has developed a technology that hashes images, meaning that they can no longer be shared.

“If your content is hashed, it can’t be shared in the first place. Or it stops it from being shared again. We’d like to see some of these tools become available. It would stop some of this sharing in its tracks,” Sophie said.

It’s a first step that Facebook is limiting the sharing of certain images on its platform. Next, Sophie hopes that other social media platforms will follow suit and that the technology will become open for anyone to use.

Revenge Porn Helpline: Supporting Those Who Are Affected

Sophie said that she and her team offer victims other ways to mitigate the effects of revenge porn. She suggests that people use reverse image searches to see if their images have been uploaded and set up Google Alerts to notify them if an image is posted online. She also recommends creating a separate inbox, so they only receive notifications at a specific time.

Helping victims manage the psychological effects of revenge porn is an essential mission of Revenge Porn Helpline. The problem could consume victims, so Sophie recommends limiting the time you spend hunting down these images.

“One client has a long-running issue, and she has a dedicated email to receive Google Alerts. She only looks on Monday and calls us that same day. She’s put it in a box, so it doesn’t overlap with other parts of her life,” Sophie said.

The Helpline offers tools, strategies, and support for victims who have few places to turn. Revenge porn is embarrassing and infuriating, but the nonprofit shows individuals that others have faced the same issues.

“If you haven’t talked to someone who this has happened to or if it hasn’t happened to you, you don’t understand the impact revenge porn can have. We can do a lot of things to alleviate the pain for a lot of people. By removing content and providing support, we know we’re making a difference,” Sophie said.