A group of women who had their intimate photos stolen and shared online by people living in their local community have joined forces to try to bring the perpetrators to justice – after feeling let down by police.
The indecent images, including some of underage girls, are thought to have been taken via hacking, lifted from private social media accounts by ‘friends’ or provided by former boyfriends and subsequently uploaded anonymously to a website which features 73,000 images of women from all over the world.
Members of the online forum often specifically request and target females in their local area, reports the
However, since the group branded totgether, the police told the BBC the force has met with a number of the victims and is working with the National Crime Agency, which is investigating their reports.
Ruby, one of the victims who had photos of her on a girls’ holiday to Malia 10 years ago stolen from a private Facebook album and shared to the site, said it felt ‘very violating and quite personal’
Ruby, one of the victims who had photos of her on a girls’ holiday to Malia 10 years ago stolen from a private Facebook album and shared to the site, said it felt ‘very violating and quite personal’.
‘I discovered last summer that some private images of myself in which I was 17 years old had been uploaded to a website, and this particular website allowed anonymous users to upload whatever images they wanted of whoever they wanted in a bid to expose or exploit, particularly women or young girls in a sexually driven way,’ she told
‘The photos were actually from a private “friends only” Facebook album I had 10 years ago,’ she added, explaining that they must have been taken from the social media site by someone she’d ‘consider a friend’ and ‘knew well enough’ for them to view a private album.
While not especially ‘explicit’ – the images of her showed part of Ruby’s bum and her back while lying topless on her bed – she told how those of a friend of hers from the same town were ‘really explicit’, shared only between her and her current partner, and were hacked from personal storage platforms.
Ruby said she first became aware her photos were on the ‘creepy’ site when she was contacted by a friend she’d been to college with who’d seen them.
‘Someone contacted me through Instagram and said, “We’re really sorry to be the bearer of bad news but there are these images of you on this horrible website”,’ she told the BBC.
Ruby said she first became aware her photos were on the ‘creepy’ site when she was contacted by a friend she’d been to college with
‘People began recognising people on the thread. The link kind of spread like wildfire. Everyone just started knowing about it and alerting each other. Because it is such a small local community it just started to snowball. Ultimately it resulted in 30 reports being made to the police in one day.’
Another victim from the same local area, Jess, said the photos were being ‘passed around like a set of trump cards or Pokémon cards’.
She described the culprits as ‘predator-like’, adding: ‘We’ve gone to school with them, we shop at the same supermarket as them. It’s worldwide.’
When she discovered her ‘provocative images’ had appeared on the site without her consent, she said her heart ‘literally sank’ and she ‘felt like someone had shot her’. When she looked, she said she recognised ‘so many girls’.
‘The only good thing about it was we were able to all come into a group and have each other as support,’ Jess explained.
Another victim from the same local area, Jess, said the photos were being ‘passed around like a set of trump cards or Pokemon cards’
‘It’s about time that we stopped slut-shaming anyone that’s been affected by this, and we actually start pointing the finger at the people that are distributing these images. This is a time to start fighting back and getting our power back again.’
One woman, who remained anonymous, told the BBC that ‘decent’ photos of her were taken from her social media and placed next to indecent ones so that people would recognise her.
WHAT ARE THE LAWS AROUND SHARING INTIMATE PHOTOS WITHOUT CONSENT?
Currently, there is no single criminal offence in England and Wales that governs the taking, making and sharing of intimate images without consent. Instead, we have a patchwork of offences that have developed over time, most of which existed before the rise of the internet and use of smartphones.
Each offence has different definitions and fault requirements, and there are some behaviours that are left unaddressed. The limitations and gaps in the current law include inconsistency over what type of intimate images are covered. For example, upskirting is currently a criminal offence but downblousing is not. Sharing an altered image – usually involving adding someone’s head to a pornographic image is also not covered.
While motivations such as sexual gratification and causing distress are covered (although not consistently), other motivations such as sharing the images as a joke or to coerce an individual are not covered at all. Threats to share are not adequately covered, especially when a threat was made to humiliate, coerce, control or distress an individual.
Information taken from https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/
‘I’ve even seen one of the threads which has screenshotted my mum’s Facebook profile photo and said, “Who wants to see photos of her daughter?”,’ she added.
Ruby said the police response was ‘varied’, with some women not even receiving a follow-up call. While she and many other women felt unsupported as victims, Ruby acknowledged that the law doesn’t currently support the police.
In England and Wales it’s illegal to show private sexual photographs and films of someone without their consent with the intent to cause distress, but authorities often struggle to prosecute people who share this content on websites anonymously. It’s also difficult to prove that their intent is to cause distress.
‘We rely on the authorities and the police force to keep citizens safe and yet we didn’t feel safe in our own town,’ Ruby said.
‘We felt quite alone, so we started taking things into our own hands and we decided to establish a WhatsApp support group.
‘We’ve really banded together, we’ve written letters to MPs. We’ve written letters to the head of the police force.
‘It’s not right, we’re not going away and we will progress with this. We are moving forward together as a collective. We are teachers, nurses, work in retail, we are mothers, and we are real people, we won’t be silenced.’
Ruby said the dangerous thing about this website is that its threads are categorised by local areas, with one for ‘almost every corner of the UK’.
And while her name was not attached to her images, for lots of other victims, their names, places of work, schools they went to and family relations were.
Maria Miller MP, who has been campaigning for better protection against image-based sexual abuse, said the law has failed to keep up with technology.
‘It’s very difficult for the police to actually get a case and then successfully bring it to fruition, and one of the most difficult things is that Ruby wouldn’t have a right of anonymity, which is one of the things I want to see changed,’ she told Woman’s Hour.
When she discovered her ‘provocative images’ had appeared on the site without her consent, Jess said her heart ‘literally sank’ and she ‘felt like someone had shot her’. When she looked, she said she recognised ‘so many girls’ on the site
Maria Miller MP, who has been campaigning for the better protection against image based sexual abuse, said the law has failed to keep up with technology
‘What I’m calling on the government to do is to take all the existing patchwork of laws around upskirting and revenge pornography, and just to make one simple law which says, it’s a criminal offence to post an intimate image without somebody’s consent.
‘Whether we can do that through the Online Harms bill or whether it has to be a parallel piece of legislation is yet to be seen.’
The police told the BBC is has met with a number of the victims and is working with the National Crime Agency which is investigating their reports.
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