New Zealand women not immune from 'revenge porn' culture

'Revenge porn' is a crime we associate with overseas; but is it prevalent in New Zealand as well?
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'Revenge porn' is a crime we associate with overseas; but is it prevalent in New Zealand as well?

With a high-profile Italian suicide putting the perils of sharing "revenge porn" in the spotlight, we explore the situation in New Zealand – and discover New Zealand women are far from impervious. Philip McSweeney reports.

New Zealand women are not immune from a "dire" revenge porn culture, according to local experts.

Radio New Zealand reported on Thursday that explicit photographs of New Zealand women were being shared and traded on a Russian website.

Tiziana Cantone, pictured, represents the worst-case scenario of sharing revenge porn: in September this year, she ...
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Tiziana Cantone, pictured, represents the worst-case scenario of sharing revenge porn: in September this year, she committed suicide.

The website recently added a "New Zealand" category for people wanting to share photos of women from the country.

Users of the website "anonymously" upload lascivious photos sent to them by women, in exchange for photos sent to others.

READ MORE:
* Italian prosecutor vows to punish those responisble for 'inciting' suicide
* Technology and pornography create sexual pandemic
* Who's to blame for internet culture

Often photographs come with an accompanying name.

Sometimes posts include a link to the person's facebook, with exhortations to blackmail them for more "win".

"You just know this **** has more out there," reads one comment.

The law

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Netsafe executive officer Martin Cocker cautions the "audience for this kind of content" that they can face prosecution, despite their perceived anonymity.

"There are two areas – the breach of privacy act and the harmful digital communications act – that offences like this fall under."

The website is hosted in Russia, an idyll for people who peddle in morally repugnant pornography because of the country's lenient pornography laws. .

However, "individuals from New Zealand that post on the site are governed by New Zealand law," says Cocker.

Technical tracking techniques are "not impossible" to use, and often photos shared were only shared with one person – meaning the poster becomes incriminated by the act of sharing itself.

Attempts by users to obfuscate legal consequences by disguising the names of the women with crude code – 'a's in names becomes '@'s' and 's's are rendered as '$' for example – are "ridiculous."

"That's not true. It still obviously identifies the person. It doesn't exempt you from the law at all."

The culture

Cocker acknowledges that images being uploaded without a person's consent is a problem in New Zealand.

"We do deal with a dire lot of cases of sharing, and more often threats to share them – blackmail."

"These intimate images, which are almost always self-made, are shared with a partner. Then they come out when a relationship breaks down and some people decide to post them on the internet or use them as leverage," he said.

It's an issue that's developed with, and to a certain extent been moulded by, the advent of technology, said Cocker.

"The problem has grown exponentially as sharing devices – smartphones, basically – have become universal."

Cocker believed stopping the culture required people to be prudent about sharing pictures.

"If you don't produce images, you can't share them. If you're not going to share them, they can't be shared further."

"Sharing these images is violence."

Eleanor Butterworth, agency manager of Wellington Rape Crisis, disagreed.

"The same question, for all sexual violence, comes back to consent," she said.

"The conversation we need to have is: what has the person consented to? Who does this person consent to having it shown to? If the person doesn't consent, it's a violation. It's violence."

Butterworth is also skeptical of the claim that internet culture is responsible for a culture of sharing images.

"It's easy to say that, because this is the first generation that has access to this technology, but the issue of what is a healthy, respectful relationship pre-dates the internet."

"If we up our analysis about relationships, in a way that [promotes being] healthy, consensual and safe, we can learn to treat images with consent."

She observed it's an activity that "a lot of couples do" without incident, and is concerned that attributing responsibility to the victim makes them feel "ashamed" and "blamed" -- and less likely to speak out.

"These things are crimes."

Justice?

Butterworth and Cocker both agree the law is behind the digital times.

However, Butterworth believed amending the justice system was a step, not a solution.

"When someone sends a photo, they only consent for their partner to see it."

"The issue is not that the pictures are taken."

 - Stuff

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