Rikke Amundsen on the act of revenge porn that is set to make legal history



In this post, Rikke Amundsen gives her thoughts on Chrissy Chambers' attempt to make legal history by prosecuting an ex-partner for posting revenge pornography of her online. Rikke is a member of the University of Cambridge's Centre for Gender Studies and a network member of the Beauty Demands project.


On June 3rd, the Guardian published an article about Chrissy Chambers, a victim of revenge porn who is about to make legal history. Chambers is the first person in the UK to seek both a civil action for damages and criminal prosecution of an ex-partner for posting revenge porn online. As the revenge porn material involving Chambers was posted years ago, the new law criminalising revenge porn in the UK does not apply. Chambers will thus rely on a range of old laws in order to legally address her perpetrator. News coverage of cases like that of Chambers make part of a larger public debate in the UK on the legal steps that can be taken in order to challenge revenge porn offenders and protect victims. However, whilst the heightened focus on legal measures to address revenge porn cases ought to be applauded, it is worth questioning whether the debate might benefit from devoting more time to considering what arguably is an even more pressing concern: how can revenge porn operate so “successfully” as a form of revenge in the first place? 

Undoubtedly, the focus on legal measures and remedies is a step in the right direction in terms of striking down on revenge porn once it has already occurred. It still appears to me that the time is ripe to start exploring the culture and attitudes that enable revenge porn to operate as it does to begin with. Certainly, in order to put an end to revenge porn as such, we ought to address the social attitudes that make it possible for revenge porn to shame and harm women in the way that it does. As illustrated by the case of Chambers, being a victim of revenge porn can be devastating: it can cause emotional distress as well as a loss of income and job prospects. In order to be able to cause these effects, revenge porn depends on being placed in a wider social context in which female expressions of sexuality are already associated with shame and humiliation. Now we need to ask why it is like this and how it has come to be so. For example, as revenge porn disproportionally affects women and the majority of offenders are male, closer scrutiny of the role gender might play in revenge porn could be a useful starting point for a more fruitful debate on how revenge porn can operate as it does. It is only when we know the conditions that facilitate revenge porn to harm and humiliate that we can also come to know how to strike it at its very core.




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