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'Over sharing' can create nightmare when relationship breaks down

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We are all at it these days! There’s hardly a moment in our day that isn’t captured by a camera. Your entire life in pictures, forever. This undoubtedly creates some great memories, but, occasionally, those pictures and memories turn into nightmares with deep reaching consequences.

‘Revenge porn’ has arrived.  But what is it?  It’s the sharing of private, sexual materials - either photos or videos - of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress.  It’s designed to cause maximum shame, to blackmail and cause harm. Although we tend to hear about it when a couple separate and private pictures are released there are reports that children as young as 11 have been subjected to it.

Until now, many of us simply haven’t thought about the consequences of our ‘over-sharing’ culture - a trend that would be unimaginable ten years ago. Adults and children alike are taking pictures of themselves and sending them, through the air, to people they know or sometimes to people they don’t know or have only just met.  These photos can range from relatively tame to explicit, with all stages in between.  These could be photos they don’t know about, because they were taken without their knowledge or consent.

In my area of work, when there is a fall out or a relationship breaks up, revenge is often high on the agenda, and such pictures, or even videos, can surface.  Even in the absence of a broken relationship, it is now more common for individuals to pass around pictures of partners or ex-girlfriends and boyfriends to their friends and colleagues without the person being aware of what is going on. They can potentially be shared around the world in the blink of an eye or sent to somewhere to do the maximum harm.  

Shockingly, dedicated websites - designed to encourage the sharing of those images or to encourage comments which are often degrading, humiliating and sometimes very threatening - are commonplace.  In extreme cases, information about names, the address or places to easily identity the victim, can also be published.

The impact upon the victim can be devastating with reports of some victims being unable to cope with what has happened leading to health problems, social difficulties and an impact on livelihood.

This is an issue that the government is keen to tackle. The Ministry of Justice is launching a campaign to raise awareness – ‘Be Aware B4 You Share’. Children in our schools are receiving education about how to protect themselves and the dangers of our modern, digital world.  

Revenge porn is to become a criminal offence by spring 2016 and will see punishments of up to two years in prison.  The new law will cover sexually explicit images or videos sent without consent over social networks, text and other digital communications. It will apply to both online and offline activity and to images which are shared. It will also be an offence to share private, sexual photographs or films where what is shown would not usually be seen in public.

With current digital technology, once a picture has been taken there is a risk that it will never be private even if you don’t do anything with it.  It could leave your control or be duplicated without your knowledge even if you think it is deleted. Inadvertently synchronising a phone with a tablet or a tablet with a PC duplicates those images. You may realise your mistake and delete - but have you really deleted?  They might be sitting in your ‘trash can’ waiting to surface. They may be on the social network’s servers for some time. They may have already been copied and shared elsewhere. So much is now, sadly, outside of our control.

Anyone whose privacy is being threatened or has concerns about someone else’s intentions, should immediately contact the police and seek legal advice.  Protection is available through the criminal system under the current laws and through the courts who can prevent sharing of images and prohibit activity on social media.