Revenge porn: What to do if you’re a victim

IMMEDIATE STEPS

The first instinct for most people who discover their intimate images on the internet is to want them taken down IMMEDIATELY, and to delete every possible connection to the person they suspect of posting them. Shame and fury mean victims often do the purge as fast as they can. This includes emails, texts, social media accounts and pictures. 

But to hold the perpetrator accountable, you need evidence. The police and prosecutors will need it for a criminal case. Your lawyers will need it if you’re going to sue for damages. We see frequently that victims delete a lot of material that could have been valuable to them later, and regret doing so. 

Below is a list of steps you can follow to increase your online privacy and safeguard your evidence. We recommend being systematic. Increasing your online privacy can help protect you in the future; gathering evidence can help you get justice for what you have already experienced. You can take back control by building the kind of case that will maximize your chances of prevailing in legal proceedings

You can take any of these steps on your own, but if you prefer to get help,  please contact us

1. Verify and change privacy settings

To start with, it’s a good idea to make your privacy settings on social media and other accounts more restrictive. Privacy settings can be used to control who can access your profile and, usually, your list of contacts. If you restrict access to that list, fewer people may receive copies of your image. 

Don’t delete any content when you make these changes. 

2. Improve password security

You should also ensure that your account passwords, including social media and email, are secure. There are a few ways to do this.

Change your password: If you believe that an account has been compromised, you should change your password on not only that account, but others that may be accessible with that same password. This includes social media and email accounts. 

Password strength: When changing your password, avoid using personal information, such as your name or names of family members, friends and pets. Also avoid using numbers that other people may guess, such as your date of birth. Longer passwords are more secure, and you should include a variety of letters, characters and numbers. When using real words, replace at least one letter with a character or number. For example, instead of Dog, use D@g. Change your passwords regularly. 

Two-factor authentication: Where possible, use two-factor authentication for your online accounts.  

Password manager: Consider using a password manager to securely store your passwords. A password manager generally saves your login information in an encrypted form in its database. You choose one strong, difficult to guess password as your master password, and that is the only complex password you need to remember. There are various reliable password managers, with different features, such as 1Password or LastPass, and many operating systems and internet browsers also offer their own built-in solutions. Some cost money, others are free. 

3. Save your evidence

Screenshots: After you have adjusted your privacy settings and strengthened your passwords, save all offending material. Without this, you may not be able to successfully pursue a legal case, so this step is crucial. You can save the material by taking screenshots or saving the material to PDF. If the material is a video, save the entire contents of the video. Take screenshots for every website and app the perpetrator has used. 

The screenshots should show as much information about the posts as possible, including the poster’s username, the date and time of posting, and any captions or comments. Facebook and other platforms often filter some comments when you scroll down your timeline—try to make all comments visible if possible. It’s very important that the time and date of your screenshot is visible if it later becomes used as evidence. 

Merging screenshots: If you take screenshots on your smartphone, you can use one of the widely available screenshot stitching apps, such as Tailor, to merge multiple screenshots of a long chat thread into a single image. The latest versions of iPhones and Android phones also offer screen recording solutions, if you find it’s easier to capture a video of you scrolling (slowly) through chats or websites. 

Store multiple copies: Keep your evidence in a safe place, and make multiple copies. For an electronic copy, it’s good to store it separately from your usual computer, for example using a thumb drive or external hard drive that you can put in a safe place. A cloud-based account can add extra security. If you have physical evidence only, like letters and photographs, make copies and make sure the originals and the copies are in different safe places. You should also make an electronic copy. 

Ask for help when you need it: Assembling evidence can be time consuming and stressful. You may not be feeling ready to do this on your own – that’s OK. If you have a friend or a family member you trust and who can help, ask them. This is also something we can help with. 

4. Make a record

If you’re going to build a case against the perpetrator, the most useful tool for lawyers or police is a straightforward account of what has happened to you. Write down, on a computer or paper, exactly what has happened to you and what you did in response, with dates if possible. It is best to write this in chronological order, and include the names of witnesses or people who can confirm your account on each day. If you can insert screenshots or other evidence in your account where they fit in the timeline, that will help. 
 
You want to make it easy for other people to understand what happened to you and to keep a record that you can use later when your memory may not be so clear. 
 
Again, keep this in a safe place, and also keep a copy someplace secure, in case the perpetrator tries to intervene.

5. File a police report

The police are often in the best position to help victims of online abuse and non-consensual pornography. They have resources to investigate the internet that the rest of us don’t, and can put the perpetrator in jail. 

If you receive any threats of physical violence or feel unsafe, call the police immediately and get to a safe place.

In our experience, the police are very helpful in cases when violence is threatened. In one case we saw them arrest a perpetrator within an hour of our client’s call.

However, the police can struggle with crimes that happen exclusively online, which is often the case with non-consensual pornography. Some police forces do not understand how devastating this crime can be to the victim. Some are unfortunately even tempted to blame the victim for having a naked photo to begin with.

In cases where the victim and perpetrator don’t live in the same place, getting police to coordinate can be tough. A criminal prosecution also requires good evidence because of the high burden of proof in criminal proceedings, so it’s crucial to approach the police with all of your evidence in good order. If possible, print it out, number each piece of evidence, and put it in a binder. Include a written timeline describing what has happened to you and your own actions in response, and include a brief description of each numbered piece of evidence and its significance. We can help with that too. 

LEGAL ASSISTANCE

If you want to learn more about your legal options, it’s best to speak with a lawyer. Every case is different, so there’s no “one size fits all” solution. A lawyer who has handled other cases in this area can help guide you through the process. 

Below are some examples of possible legal actions you can take, depending on your situation. 

Preparing a detailed timeline: We can work with you to organize your evidence and prepare a detailed timeline of what happened. You can use this when filing a police report, to support a criminal complaint by providing it to the prosecutor, or to build your own civil case. Though this is something you can do on your own, or with someone you trust, we understand that it can be overwhelming to look at and organize your evidence, so lawyers may be useful. 

Takedown requests: This is a request to a website, search engine, social media site or pornography site to take down the harmful content. This can also include requests to stop violating copyright law. 

Cease and desist letter: This is a letter sent to the perpetrator, either by you or by a lawyer, which details what he or she has done to you, and the laws that this conduct violates. This sometimes wakes perpetrators up to the fact they’re doing something wrong and gets them to stop. 

Civil lawsuit: Sometimes the law enables you to sue your perpetrator(s) in civil court. The basis of the lawsuit could be the posting of the non-consensual image, if your jurisdiction permits this, or a related cause of action, such as harassment or blackmail. If you win, your perpetrator may be ordered to pay you money. This will not undo what happened, but it at least holds the perpetrator accountable. 

Civil injunction: This is a motion filed with the court to order the perpetrator to immediately stop their conduct. If the motion is granted, the perpetrator must respect the court order. If not, he or she may face legal consequences. 

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