Remedies to Address Revenge Porn & Image-Based Sexual Abuse For Survivors of Domestic Violence Featured Image

Remedies to Address Revenge Porn & Image-Based Sexual Abuse For Survivors of Domestic Violence

In our ever-expanding digital world, domestic violence victims and survivors are increasingly vulnerable to new forms of exploitation and coercion at the hands of current or former partners. Revenge porn and other forms of image-based sexual abuse can constitute coercive control tactics abusers exploit to keep their victims under their power and control.

It is never your fault if a current or former spouse or partner sends, shares, and/or posts intimate pictures of you without your consent. Even if you did, at one point, consent or agree to your pictures or videos being taken, shared, or posted, you can always revoke your consent and demand that the content be taken down.

If you are a survivor of domestic violence and have also been a victim of revenge porn and/or another form of image-based sexual abuse, you are not alone. Throughout the United States, the CDC estimates that “[m]ore than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%)… have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

There are a variety of legal remedies that you can employ to protect yourself and your online reputation. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Reporting the content to the online platform;
  • Requesting de-indexing of content on porn websites to Google and other search engines;
  • Sending DMCA takedown notices to websites hosting the content;
  • Filing a ‘revenge porn lawsuit’;
  • Securing a civil protection order/order of protection;
  • Making a police report and filing criminal charges.

At Minc Law, we offer judgment-free services to help clients like you regain your digital reputation and sense of safety by communicating with platforms and websites, pursuing legal action, and working with law enforcement.

In this article, we provide information on when revenge porn and image-based sexual abuse become coercive control and legal steps domestic violence survivors can take to protect their physical, emotional and digital safety.

Revenge Porn & Image-Based Sexual Abuse as Forms of Abuse & Coercive Control

Revenge porn and other forms of image-based sexual abuse can be weaponized by current and former partners to maintain power and control over their victims.

Defining Abuse & Coercive Control

The term “domestic violence” is frequently used to describe “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.”

However, each state has its own legal definition of what acts constitute domestic violence. Domestic violence is usually legally defined to include acts and threats of physical harm against a family or household member. These legal definitions do not always encompass all the behaviors that we consider to constitute abuse. However, legal definitions determine what kinds of legal help a survivor can assess (e.g., criminal charges, protection orders).

Even if abuse in a relationship does not meet the legal definition of domestic violence, a survivor may still experience trauma associated with their abuser’s coercive control tactics and can take steps to protect themselves.

Coercive control is a term that is used to describe the wide range of tactics that abusers use to keep their victims trapped in abusive relationships. An abuser does not necessarily need to employ physical violence to exert control over a victim. Fear of physical and emotional harm is often sufficient for an abuser to exert power and control over their victim.

Identifying Power and Control Abuse Wheel. Dana Cuomo & Natali Dolci, New tools, old abuse, Technology-Enabled Coercive Control (TECC), 216 Geoforum 224-323 (2021)

Dana Cuomo & Natali Dolci, New tools, old abuse, Technology-Enabled Coercive Control (TECC), 216 Geoforum 224-323 (2021)

When a current or former partner threatens to or actually shares intimate content to control their partner’s behavior, they are engaging in acts of coercive control.

Defining Revenge Porn & Image-Based Sexual Abuse

The term revenge porn underscores concepts of coercive control as it “is typically understood as the non-consensual distribution of private, sexual images by a malicious ex-partner.” However, it is important to note that revenge porn falls on a “continuum of image-based sexual abuse.”

Image-based sexual abuse “refers to three key behaviors: the nonconsensual creation (or taking) of nude and/or sexual images; the nonconsensual distribution (or sharing) of nude and/or sexual images; and threats to share nude and/or sexual images.”

Other examples of image-based sexual abuse include sexualized photoshopping, the use of sexualized deepfakes, upskirting, sextortion, and voyeurism.

Revenge porn and image-based sexual abuse include sharing among friends or posting on the internet content that was captured without the consent of the victim, content that was obtained even though the victim was reluctant, and/or content that was secretly captured through hidden devices.

Revenge porn and image-based sexual abuse takes an emotional toll on survivors, regardless of whether their relationship has a history of domestic violence. Studies have shown that victims of “nonconsensual pornography” suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and other negative mental health outcomes.

When such acts occur at the hands of an intimate partner or spouse who has engaged in previous acts of domestic violence, revenge porn and image-based sexual abuse can become another way that an abuser asserts coercive control over the life of the victim.

Prevalence of Revenge Porn & Image-Based Sexual Abuse in Relationships With a History of Domestic Violence

Adults can and do consent to the production of sexually explicit images. Therefore, “nonconsensual intimate imagery is abusive not because of the content per se, but because of the power relations underlying their production and/or distribution.”

Although there is limited empirical data available on the prevalence of revenge porn and image-based sexual abuse in relationships with a history of domestic violence, one UK study found that 83% of revenge porn prosecutions were flagged as being related to domestic violence in some way.

Although creating and/or sharing sexually explicit images of another person without their consent for the purposes of sexual gratification or bragging rights is undoubtedly a form of image-based sexual abuse, such non-consensual image sharing becomes a form of coercive control when the perpetrator’s underlying motive is to control the behavior of the victim.

For example, revenge porn and image-based sexual abuse becomes coercive control if the abuser threatens to disseminate the photos if the victim ends the relationship, refuses to allow him access to the children, or spends time with family and friends without the abuser’s approval.

In the context of domestic violence, revenge porn and image-based sexual abuse is “not one act of revenge after a breakup. It is a continued pattern of control. It is another means to degrade them, to humiliate them, shame them, control them, maybe coerce them into coming back.”

Revenge porn and image-based sexual abuse are effective forms of coercive control because we, as a society, victim-blame and slut-shame victims of image-based sexual abuse. By stigmatizing and blaming the victim, we empower abusers to use the fear of posting intimate content to continue to keep their victims trapped in dangerous relationships.

Remedies to Address Revenge Porn & Image-Based Sexual Abuse For Survivors of Domestic Violence

A domestic violence survivor knows her situation best. Leaving a relationship is often the most dangerous time for a victim/survivor. You should consider working with a domestic violence advocate in assessing risks associated with pursuing any course of legal action.

Locate the Scope of the Content

Before conducting any search, please be mindful that an abuser may be monitoring your online activity.

The vastness of the internet can make the location of your pictures and videos a challenging task. If you or someone you know found your content on a porn site, it is likely that the content has been uploaded to other websites. This is because these sites “scrape” content from each other.

If you were under the age of 18 when the photos or video was taken, you should NOT preserve the actual photos. Preserving the actual photos may be construed as possession of child pornography, which is a crime. You should preserve a record of where the media is posted. You may also want to discuss potential criminal repercussions with a criminal attorney.

To find your image, you can:

Use Google to Conduct a Reverse Image Search

Go to Google Images and click the camera button on the right-hand corner of the search bar. Then, drag or upload your image to Google and hit search by image.

Google’s Reverse Image Search is not a facial recognition software and will only pull up websites where that exact photo is found.

Navigate Adult Sites & Social Media

You can also search porn websites for your content. A few sites where users post revenge porn and other image-based sexual abuse content include:

  • PornHub
  • ComeDaddy
  • Motherless
  • Eporner
  • Reddit
  • Twitter

When searching the websites directly, try not to search your own name too often. The more you search for your name on a site, the more likely it will appear in the site’s search results even if your content is not on the platform.

If you find your content on any site, save the URLs. Then, reach out to the hosting provider (i.e., the company that manages the website). Who is Hosting This and DomainTools can help you identify the hosting provider.

Please see our comprehensive resource ‘How to Permanently Remove Content From Revenge Porn Websites’ for further reading.

Subscribe to an Image Recognition Service

If you are concerned that there are other images or videos of you out there, you may consider purchasing a facial recognition service like PimEyes. This will help you search for your image and alert you of any matches.

Report the Content to the Platform

For anyone experiencing abuse, it is important to be mindful that your internet use may be being monitored and to consult with an advocate well-versed in digital safety planning if you have concerns for your safety.

Once you have identified where your content has been posted, you will want to find the website’s Terms of Service. Then, you can draft a request to take down your content. If you were under the age of 18 in any of the content, you should specifically state in your request that the site is hosting child pornography.

If a website requires you to pay a processing or other fee to take any action on your behalf, consult with an attorney. This is unethical, if not unlawful, conduct.

Submit a Google Revenge Porn Notice

Search engines allow people to report revenge porn and image-based sexual abuse. For example, you can have the URL removed from Google’s search results by submitting a notice to Google through its “Remove explicit or intimate personal images” request form. You may have to submit the request a few times because Google can be very particular.

This will remove your content’s URL from search results. But your content will remain on the original site.

Copyright Claims & DMCA Takedown Notices

If you have reason to believe that your abuser posted the content from a certain account and still monitors that account, a DMCA takedown notice may not be the best option for you. This is because the website must notify the user who posted the content.

If you took the photos or videos, you likely own the copyright to the content. Posting copyrighted content without your permission violates US copyright law. Section 512(c) of the DMCA allows copyright holders to remove their content from websites without having to go to court.

To request removal, you can submit a DMCA request to the site. The request MUST include:

  1. The signature of the copyright owner or the signature of the owner’s authorized agent;
  2. Identification of the copyrighted work;
  3. Identification of what material or activity is being infringed upon;
  4. The copyright owner’s or their agent’s contact information;
  5. A statement that the owner or their agent has a good faith belief that the content’s use is not authorized by the owner;
  6. A statement that the information in the request is accurate and under the penalty of perjury, the person sending the notice is authorized to act on the copyright owner’s behalf.

Once a website receives a DMCA notice, they must remove the infringing content and notify the user who posted it. Again, because of the potential for safety risks and legal complications, it may be best to seek the assistance of an experienced DMCA attorney before pursuing this course of action.

Revenge Porn Lawsuit

If it is safe to do so and consistent with your goals, you may consider bringing legal action against the person who posted your content. You should contact an attorney before pursuing any legal action because criminal and civil laws vary state by state.

Criminal Claims

Domestic violence is a crime in all fifty states. Each estate may define domestic violence differently, but generally, actual harm or threats to harm a family or household member constitute domestic violence.

The state may be able to bring criminal charges against the abuser who posted your content online without your consent. As of 2023, 48 states, D.C., Guam and Puerto Rico have criminal laws pertaining to “nonconsensual distribution of intimate images.”

If you were under 18 when the content was created, the abuser may be criminally liable for publishing and/or possessing child pornography.

It is important to consider the safety risks involved with filing a police report. Abusers often escalate when their conduct is reported. Although you can report the acts to law enforcement, law enforcement often has discretion whether to refer it to the prosecutor who then decides whether to prosecute the case.

Unfortunately, law enforcement oftentimes does not understand the severity of harm caused by revenge porn and image-based sexual abuse and may downplay the risks to your safety and well-being.

Civil Claims (VAWA, State Civil Codes, Additional Civil Claims)

A civil lawsuit is where you sue another person for causing you harm. There are two main forms of remedies the court can issue: (1) monetary award and (2) injunctive relief.

Section 1309 of the Federal Violence Against Women Act also provides a civil claim for individuals whose “intimate visual depiction[s]” are posted without the other person’s consent. Additionally, states are increasingly creating civil causes of action for nonconsensual pornography.

Even in states that do not have specific causes of action for “nonconsensual pornography,” you can bring other civil claims against an abuser who posts sexually explicit content without your content. These claims include, but are not limited to:

  • Fraud
  • Copyright Infringement
  • Privacy Torts
    • False Light
    • Intrusion
    • Invasion of Privacy
    • Misappropriation
  • Cyber and/or General Harassment
  • Stalking
  • Extortion
  • Blackmail

Depending on the facts of your case and the laws of your state, one or more of these claims can be asserted. Again, it is best to consult with an attorney on the best course of action.

You can learn more about the time, expense, and process of filing a revenge porn and/or image-based sexual abuse lawsuit in our comprehensive guide ‘How to File a Revenge Porn Lawsuit’.

Before filing, you may want to consider if legal action will cause an abuser to escalate in terms of physical violence or posting more content online.

Civil Protection Orders & Orders of Protection

A protection order may be called something else in your state. I use the term protection order here to refer to an order you can file for in the civil court if you are a victim of domestic violence, even if there is no criminal case pending against the abuser.

A protection order is a court order that makes things that are otherwise legal illegal. For example, if a protection order is issued, an abuser may not be able to talk to you, call or text you, come within a certain distance of you, or remain in your home. What restrictions will be placed on an abuser varies from state to state. An abuser can be prosecuted for violations of a protection order.

Each state has different requirements, laws, and procedures for filing and granting a protection order, so it is best to consult with an attorney experienced in domestic violence law before filing.

Generally, to file for a protection order, a victim must show that she (1) has experienced domestic violence (which is defined differently in each state, but generally includes actual harm or threats to harm another family or household member) and (2) has a credible fear that an abuser will harm them again in the future.

In every state, an abuser has a due process right to be notified that a victim has filed a civil protection order and to present their “side” to the court. It is best to consult with a victim’s rights advocate or social worker on the safety risks associated with filing a civil protection order.

Revenge porn and image-based sexual abuse alone is likely not enough for a court to issue a protection order. You should also be aware that revenge porn and content derived from image-based sexual abuse may be used as evidence against you– an abuser might try to have such evidence admitting to humiliate you under the guise of showing the court “positive moments” in the relationship.

For further reading, please see our comprehensive article ‘What to Do If Someone is Distributing Your Intimate Images Without Consent’.

Support Services & Organizations for Survivors

Because domestic Violence and image-based sexual abuse are pervasive issues in our society, there are several organizations that offer free resources to victims and survivors, including those listed below:

Hotlines & Helplines

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline https://www.thehotline.org/
    • Call: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or TTY 1-800-787-3224
    • Text START to 88788
  • National Suicide Hotline: 988
  • CCRI: Helpline 1-844-878-2274

Organizations & Advocacy Services

We Can Help Remove Revenge Porn From the Internet

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Excellent work by Minc Law. Very respectful of my needs and 100% successful in resolving my issue. Highly recommend Minc.”

Lee
November 3, 2022

At Minc Law, we have extensive experience working with revenge porn victims and survivors to remove intimate content from the internet. Whether it involves working with adult websites to remove the unlawful content or filing suit on your behalf, we can help.

Get started with your initial no-obligation consultation by calling us at (216) 373-7706 or filling out our online contact form.

Are you being defamed online? Contact Minc Law today!

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