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Photography Nicolas Lobos, via Unsplash

Revenge porn is ‘the new normal’ post-lockdown, say activists

Cases of intimate image abuse so far this year have surpassed the amount reported in the whole of 2019, after incidents surged amid the pandemic

In May, it emerged that revenge porn was on the rise during lockdown, with helplines seeing a surge in calls after the government imposed stay-at-home orders in March. Now, activists are warning that intimate image abuse could become “the new normal” as cases so far this year surpass the amount reported in the whole of 2019.

The Revenge Porn Helpline has received over 2,000 reports of non-consensual pornography in 2020, a 22 per cent rise from last year, with cases still surging despite lockdown restrictions easing. Two thirds of these cases involve women.

Speaking to BBC News, David Wright, the director of the UK Safer Internet Centre, said: “The lockdown produced an extreme set of circumstances which are bringing a lot of problems. What we are seeing here, however, suggests something more long-term has happened which could mean we will be busier than ever before. It’s worrying to think this could be the new normal.”

In the week beginning March 23, when the UK went into lockdown, the number of people seeking help for revenge porn nearly doubled, with the Revenge Porn Helpline opening over 200 cases in the following four weeks. The helpline also reported more cases in one week in mid-April than any week since 2015, when intimate image abuse became a criminal offence for the first time.

Speaking to Dazed in May, Sophie Mortimer, manager of the helpline, said many of the calls came from people experiencing abusive relationships. This matches up with statistics from domestic abuse charities, who also reported a surge in the number of people seeking help during lockdown. Refuge experienced a 700 per cent increase in calls to its helpline in a single day in April.

“People are vulnerable in lockdown,” Mortimer said at the time, “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, and sometimes people are not who they say they are, so we have seen a rise in cases of sextortion.”

In England and Wales, revenge porn carries a maximum punishment of two years in prison, and five years in Scotland. Currently, threats to share intimate images without consent is not a crime, despite the Domestic Abuse Bill being amended in July.

Speaking to Dazed, Eleanor Butt, the head of policy and public affairs at Refuge, said that revenge porn threats are “a devastating form of domestic abuse that have long-term effects on the mental wellbeing and physical safety of survivors”. In July, the group launched its Naked Threat campaign, which urges the government to make these threats illegal.

As well as sparking an increase in revenge porn, lockdown exacerbated other problems for women and girls, including period poverty, harassment, and access to vital contraceptives. According to a Plan International UK survey, 40 per cent of girls aged 14 to 21 also felt their mental health had worsened during lockdown.

“We cannot allow the lockdown to turn back the clock on girls’ rights,” Plan International UK’s CEO, told Dazed in May. “Women’s needs cannot be an afterthought. There is an urgent need for policy makers in the UK to ensure girls’ voices are heard throughout this crisis and afterwards, especially girls who are vulnerable and often the least heard.”

If you have fallen victim to revenge porn, you can contact the Revenge Porn Helpline here. For those who want to support Refuge’s campaign to make revenge porn threats illegal, you can email the relevant ministers with this template.