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Revenge porn in lockdown
Photography Charles Deluvio, via Unsplash

Revenge porn is on the rise during lockdown

An intimate image abuse helpline received a surge in the number of people seeking advice after the UK government imposed its stay-at-home orders

It’s been seven and a half weeks since the UK went into lockdown amid the coronavirus crisis, inimitably altering our everyday lives. One problem that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic is revenge porn, which has seen a worrying surge during quarantine.

According to the Revenge Porn Helpline, the number of people seeking help for intimate image abuse nearly doubled in the week beginning March 23, when the government imposed its stay-at-home orders, with more cases opened in the following month than any previous four-week period.

Sophie Mortimer, manager of the helpline, says there’s a number of issues at play in relation to the surge. “Many of the people who come to us are experiencing abusive relationships with current or previous partners,” she tells Dazed. “The spike in domestic abuse cases is reflected here – people are vulnerable in lockdown, either with their abuser, or alone and cut off from networks of personal support and the availability of services.”

“Others are making new online contacts,” Mortimer continues, “and sometimes people are not who they say they are, so we have seen a rise in cases of sextortion.”

The Revenge Porn Helpline opened over 200 cases in the four weeks following lockdown orders, and more in one week in mid-April than any week since 2015, when revenge porn became a criminal offence for the first time. In England and Wales, revenge porn currently carries a maximum punishment of two years in prison, while in Scotland, it’s five years. Last week (May 6), it was announced that threats to publish intimate photos could also become a criminal offence as early as this summer.

“I don’t think we’re seeing anything that’s particularly different to usual,” says Mortimer. “We’re simply seeing much more, which suggests that what we were seeing before was merely the tip of a very large iceberg.”

“I don’t think we’re seeing anything that’s particularly different to usual. We’re simply seeing much more, which suggests that what we were seeing before was merely the tip of a very large iceberg” – Sophie Mortimer, Revenge Porn Helpline

In an interview with the BBC, Clare McGlynn, a law professor at Durham University, attributed the rise in cases to “the increased use of the internet and social media, as well as heightened emotions” during lockdown. She asserted that stress, break-ups, and job loss can all aggravate pre-existing abusive behaviour and coercive control – two key motives behind revenge porn.

Speaking to Dazed, Mortimer confirmed that the helpline has now been allocated extra funding from the government to help with the rising workload. With the team working from home, the helpline is unable to take calls, but is available via “email, Messenger, or our anonymous tool, Whisper”.

According to Mortimer, the Revenge Porn Helpline advises people “on how the law applies to their situation”, signposts people “to appropriate support services”, and removes “intimate content that has been shared online without consent”.

Domestic abuse charities have also reported a surge in the number of people seeking help since the UK went into lockdown, with Refuge revealing a 700 per cent increase in calls to its helpline in a single day last month. Although the government announced a £76 million package to support the most vulnerable in society – including victims of domestic abuse, who will reportedly be prioritised for housing – it’s currently unclear how the money will be allocated, with the amount still far below the figure needed to support victims.

Last week (May 7), it emerged that lockdown had exacerbated a number of other problems for girls, including period poverty, harassment, mental health, and access to contraception. “We know that health crises have a disproportionate effect on girls,” Plan International UK’s CEO, Rose Caldwell, told Dazed. “We are concerned that this pandemic could set us back still further on the path to gender equality. The worries that girls have raised are likely to continue for many months to come, and could impact their future opportunities.”

If you have fallen victim to revenge porn, you can contact the Revenge Porn Helpline here.