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Women's Rights

A young woman's fight to tackle sexual abuse

Published : Jan 21, 2022 15:38 IST T+T-
revenge-pornjpeg

Inês Marinho is herself a victim of image-based sexual abuse.

Inês Marinho, a victim of image-based sexual abuse, is on a mission to tackle the crime. Can the E.U.'s new digital law help guarantee online safety?

Inês Marinho, was wrapping up her work shift at a cafe in Lisbon, Portugal, when her phone beeped. She'd received a fretful text message, alerting her about a video containing her intimate images, circulating online. "I felt numb and nervous and instantly rushed home to be with my family,” said Marinho who was 21 at the time of the incident. "Someone I trusted had shared an intimate video of me with my name on the video. It was on porn platforms and also became viral on Twitter and Telegram. The entire incident shook me,” she told DW .

Marinho is one of the many victims of image-based sexual abuse, a criminal offence which includes non-consensual pornography and revenge porn where a person's former partner shares their intimate images without consent. The term also includes cases of upskirting images or videos uploaded and shared online.

"As soon as I saw my video online, I went to the cops to press charges. While they wanted to help, they were overwhelmed with dealing with many other similar cybercrime cases. It's 2022 and the case is still ongoing,” said Marinho who is now 24, and the President of Não Partilhes, an association which supports victims of image-based abuse in Portugal. "Sometimes I feel like when I'm walking on the street, there's someone filming me and I get nervous. But I'm also a cancer survivor and I remind myself that if I managed to fight that disease, I have the strength to survive through this criminal case,” she added.

How common is image-based sexual abuse?

With life becoming ever more digital, cases of image-based sexual abuse are on the rise. According to a study conducted by HateAid—an advice center which seeks to tackle online violence—and the Landecker Digital Justice Movement, women in the E.U. are particularly afraid of being attacked online with 30 per cent of them fearing that fake nude or intimate images could be published without their consent.

"A lot of women simply don't know that they are victims of image-based sexual abuse,” Clare McGlynn, a professor of law at Durham University in the UK, told DW . "In some countries like South Korea, images of women are taken in toilets or changing rooms and uploaded on porn platforms without their knowledge. So there's also a real hidden level of abuse that has become a serious problem,” she added.

'I just want to live a normal life'

Porn platforms have been benefitting through such online abuse. xHamster, one of the largest porn platforms in the world, reported how its demand increased when images or videos categorized as "exposed” or "hidden cam” were published. Marinho explained how her videos were also reshared on social media platforms. "I reached out to Twitter and they deleted my video. But on Telegram, they say that they aren't responsible for how groups share content. My content is being reshared on that platform by many groups including one called 'revenge porn,'” she added.

According to Josphine Ballon, Head of Legal at HateAid, to address image-based sexual abuse effectively, tackling the issue of the images reappearing on online platforms is important. "The problem is that it's picked up by so many algorithms, downloaded and then reshared repeatedly, sometimes even for years,” she told DW . "I know victims who often google themselves to check if the pictures reappear. Some of them even get emails and messages from people who have seen their pictures and want to compliment them. So victims can never forget this abuse and it continues to traumatize them,” she said.

But Marinho hasn't let her experience affect her digital presence. "I always maintained my social media profiles and never went offline because I felt that I'm strong enough to deal with this crime. I continue to dress however I want and post pictures of me wearing skirts and clothes I like. I just want to live a normal life,” she told DW .

Can the E.U.'s digital laws make a difference?

In an effort to guarantee people's safety online, European Lawmakers on January 20 voted to adopt a new legislation called the Digital Services Act (DSA). This act seeks to ensure that big online platforms tackle illegal content online effectively.

Member of the European Parliament Alexandra Geese, who is also one of the lead negotiators of the DSA, told DW , "With the DSA, it will be a lot easier for victims to get rid of those images on online platforms because there's an anonymous identification procedure. So a victim can just go online, show their face, and demand the platform to take them down.” She highlighted that there will be phone number registration requirements for big porn platforms and professional content moderation teams will also be trained to recognize images that are probably illegal and make sure these images don't go online.

While the European Sex Workers' Rights Alliance has warned that such user verification proposals are detrimental to the rights of sex workers, professor McGlynn said that the DSA will actually guarantee their online safety. "Big porn websites have been using sex workers materials without their consent for a long time, and sex workers have not been benefiting from that. So now there are far more secure platforms that sex workers can use that effectively guarantee their income and their own online safety,” she told DW .

Pathway forward

While discussions about finalizing the implementation of the E.U.'s DSA are next on the agenda for the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council, Professor McGlynn explained how E.U. nations could adopt a quick-fix system like Australia. "In Australia if you're a victim of image-based sexual abuse, you can contact the country's safety regulator and they will get the material taken down for you. That is just very effective because it's a government regulator so it's very fast and effective,” she said.

Marinho welcomed this system and also stressed the importance of educating young people about online crime. "Through my organization, I have been visiting schools in Portugal and talking to children about my experience and how every individual can play a role in tackling such abuse. It's important to remember that anyone can become a victim of such a crime. But we are not alone in our fight for justice and safety,” she said.

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