Who is Karina Saifer? Revenge Porn: A Lesson in Consent

Leah Olasehinde is one of Breaking the Glass Ceiling’s regular contributors.

In November this year, a Brazilian teenager ended her life after months of racial and sexual abuse following the release of ‘intimate photos’ that her ex-boyfriend had shared onto social media[1].

In the photos, she was 14 years old, upon her death, she was 15.

This story is one of many to reach international headlines, as her government is forced into action against the modern crime of ‘revenge porn’.

But what is ‘revenge porn’, and why is it a feminist issue? This post hopes to answer these questions, with the focus on school-aged young people. It will also dispute creating a criminal offence of this act to be the best way to approach consent within this age group.

What is revenge porn?

In April 2015, the UK government amended the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill[2], criminalising ‘revenge porn’.

A report from the Ministry of Justice[3] defines revenge porn as ‘sharing private sexual materials with intent to cause distress’. ‘Materials’ includes photos and videos, and does not need to be paired with personal information that can identify the victim. To be ‘private’, the material must only be that which ‘is not normally shared in public’. To be ‘sexual’ it need only be ‘anything that a reasonable person would consider to be sexual’.

While these criteria seem quite vague, in legal practice, wide definitions such as this allow a greater range of acts to come within the ambits of the offence. It is likely that the volatility and fast changing nature of social media called for an open definition that could be applied to all types of publications.

Why is revenge porn a feminist issue?

Since its launch in February 2015, 30%[4] of callers to the Revenge Porn Helpline were male. Like all sexual offences, males take up a large proportion of all victims, but are hugely under-represented in official criminal reports and proceedings. Revenge porn, like all sexual offences, is not a feminist issue just by affecting women.

Rather, revenge porn is a feminist issue in the way that it equates receiving and spreading sexual images to power and strength, and reduces the intimacy of sexual relationships to a means of control and manipulation over the ‘weak’. It is not difficult to see which image relates to masculinity, and which to femininity. If sexual expression were not tainted with presumptions of self-worth, morality, and purity, it would not be considered a tool of manipulation to this extent.

Why is revenge porn a youth-related issue?

Victims of revenge porn vary in ages, yet over 35% of victims are under the age of 19[5], with some as young as 11 years old[6]. Yet, the dynamics involved in revenge porn between young people are slightly different to those between adults.

Of course, young people can be motivated by the same emotions as adults: vengeance for infidelity is the most common motives for revenge porn across all ages, and manipulation and control over the ex or significant other is also significant. However, more often in young people than adults, is the use of revenge porn as a means of elevating social status of the perpetrator, and bullying the victim. It is undisputed that clique-culture, social hierarchisation, and, regrettably, bullying, are all too common in our schools.

But why should revenge porn be seen as an elevated form of bullying?

It is at the secondary school age that most young people begin to explore sexuality, and experiment with sexual and romantic relationships. Often, the shared experiences gained in adolescence will influence their mature adult relationships. A young person’s understanding of consent will shape their conduct in the future.

A young person that violates such privacy and shares intimate photos sent in confidence doesn’t understand – or appreciate – consent. If the act goes unaddressed, will they ever come to understand it in their adult relationships? It would be unreasonable to suggest that every person that partakes in revenge porn will go on to rape their future sexual partners.

But what about sexual conduct with a drunk person, whose consent is vitiated by their intoxication? Or those who continue with sexual conduct after consent has been revoked? Legally, this is still considered sexual assault. Socially, less so.

It is for this reason that young people must be better taught to understand consent and recognise when it has been granted, and when it has not.

Is creating a criminal offence out of revenge porn the best way to teach consent?

Within 6 months of its enactment, there were 1,160[7] reported incidents of this offence. However, only 11% of reported offences resulted in the alleged perpetrator being charged.[8]

Especially towards young people, there is a judicial reticence to impose criminal liability over careless acts of bullying, even if they do constitute sexual assault. The criminal offence is rarely applied, so can hardly act as a deterrent.

Therefore, how should consent best be taught to young people?

In schools, sex education forms part of ‘PSHE’, or ‘Citizenship’. Here, school-age children learn about sexual reproduction, contraception, and STIs. From my memory, there was no lesson on consent. It seems counterintuitive to teach young people to protect themselves when they engage in sexual conduct, but not to emphasise when they have the right to do so in the first place.

Teachers will find that with the right resources and attitude, students enjoy participating in class discussions and debate, especially with topics that they see to affect them. By starting with lessons in the laws of sexual assault, followed by engaging activities such as roleplay, as well as more critical analyses through poetry, song writing or blog posts, schools can engage young people in this topic in a way that will influence how they explore sexual and romantic relationships in the present and future. Rape Crisis South London has compiled resources that can be used by teachers and youth leaders to teach young people how to ‘Give and Get Consent’.[9]

After September 2019, sex and relationships education will be made compulsory in all schools in England[10]. We hope to see that it will address and discuss consent in a way that will engage, and actually influence, young people.

 

References:

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/teenage-girl-suicide-brazil-ex-boyfriend-online-pictures-intimate-revenge-porn-online-karina-saifer-a8068841.html

[2] Criminal Justice and Courts Bill (HL Bill 49)

[3]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/405286/revenge-porn-factsheet.pdf

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-33807243

[5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-36054273

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37278264

[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-36054273

[8] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-36054273

[9] http://www.rasasc.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Give-n-Get-Consent-A-resource-for-teaching-sexual-consent-to-key-stages-3-and-4.pdf

[10] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-39116783

Picture credit: http://strategyonline.ca/2016/02/25/making-consent-seriously-simple/

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