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Revenge porn: virtual violence with real consequences

A phenomenon resulting from a sexophobic cultural model

By Alessia Amorosini

Virality, which is the basis of the mechanisms of the web, is a double-edged weapon: it is good for example, if you want to spread messages in the short time or stay informed, negative in cases of cyberbullying and revenge porn. The latter phenomenon, which consists in the dissemination of intimate material without the consent of the person portrayed, is now a crime in our country.

There is in fact a fine of 5.000 to 15.000 euros, imprisonment of 1 to 6 years and consequences, not only for those who disclose the material first, but also for those who possess and disseminate it, thus creating a virtual wave that has the impact of a tidal wave in the lives of the victims. This legal breakthrough, however, does not seem sufficient to put an end to this silly practice

The Telegram case dates back to April: groups of thousands of members exchanged the explicit material of unwitting girlfriends, wives, ex and even videos and photos of their underage sons and daughters.

Today it makes discuss the case of the teacher from Turin, fired as a victim of revenge porn, beyond the damage even the joke. The damage? The trust betrayed, a pact broken by a “man” who denies the removal of intimate material online because, according to him, “the relationship between us was only physical and not affective”, the silence imposed with the threats of further dissemination, the feeling that she herself defined as being “killed inside” and a virtual violence perceived sadly real.

The mockery of it? The public pillory to which she was subjected at the workplace, orchestrated by a director and a medieval school staff, which led her to resign and bigoted parents, so outraged by the incident, to threaten the revocation of registration.

The consequences for the executioner? A year of community service.

Fortunately, however, there have been demonstrations of solidarity for women.

The champion Claudio Marchisio, with his wife Roberta Sinopoli, spoke about the matter with an Instagram post with extremely direct content:

- “The teacher’s sex tape” is actually called revenge porn.
- Revenge porn is a crime, as well as terrible violence.
- Sex is not a crime (not even for teachers).
She’s innocent. He’s a criminal as well as an asshole.
Closed speech 👩‍⚖️👨‍⚖️”.

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Claudio Marchisio (@marchisiocla8)

Even the mayor of the city of Turin, Chiara Appendino, spoke on the story that hit her fellow citizen, stating: What has happened is just the tip of the iceberg of a sexophobic, masculinist and violent cultural model that still permeates too many layers of society”... “Maybe it’s time to teach our daughters and our sons that having sex in a conscious, consenting and serene way is a beautiful thing. That there’s nothing wrong with being intimate with another person. And that this does not affect in the slightest, in the most absolute way, neither the morality, nor the image, nor the professionalism of anyone”. She then adds: “A short time ago I saw again under my eyes an article, by the way, of an authoritative paper, which titled: “The sexiest math teacher in the world? It’s the Italian…” “With lots of glossy photos without t-shirt. Do you think after posing for the photos and after it came out the article was fired? I think not (and we would miss it!). If you are a woman and your private images are unlawfully disseminated arriving at your employer... well, then you are fired”.

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Chiara Appendino (@chiara_appendino)

Over 200 journalists and women from the show wrote a letter to the young teacher: “Thank you for not keeping quiet, as many would have liked. Thank you for not giving up, and to those who told you that you should feel ashamed, you responded by making this story public, where everyone else should be ashamed. Not you”.

The following hashtag to support the woman was also born: #iostoconlamaestra.

Revenge porn is nothing but a new frontier of sexual violence, which by the way does not stop and finds fertile ground in a male-dominated society that demonizes female sexuality. The victim is called the “naive fool who asked for it” and no matter if the content was made and thought in private form, it is enough that the material is self-produced, to consider the person portrayed worthy of collective denigration.

Precisely this phenomenon, which can be identified in short with the term “victim blaming” (that is, the victim’s guilt) and problematic and misleading media narratives, speaks Carlotta Vagnoli in this speech:

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da C. (@carlottavagnoli)

Chiara Ferragni, a supporter of the “power of sharing”, uses her platform (which currently boasts 22 million followers) to expose herself to slut - shaming, what it means to be a woman in 2020 and stresses how, the lack of female solidarity does nothing but cause further harm to gender. Hitting other women, it means weakening themselves, raising them will lead to strengthening.

 
 
 
 
 
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Un post condiviso da Chiara Ferragni ✨ (@chiaraferragni)

Those cited up to now are Italian news cases, but unfortunately it is a global problem. Kamala Harris, newly elected Vice President of the United States, also dealt with the theme of “revenge porn” starting from the analysis of the term itself. The word “revenge” (revenge) would suggest that the victim did something negative, causing a well-deserved effect on his actions and the word “porn” (porn) usually indicates a consent to spread, which clearly in these cases is not there. For this reason, the vice president suggests the term “cyber exploitation” (cyber exploitation) to identify the phenomenon and promises to fight to become a federal crime.

In 2018, deepfake pornography emerged on the Internet. What are deepfakes? A technique for synthesizing the human image based on artificial intelligence, used to combine and superimpose existing images and videos with original videos or images. In the fall of 2017, an anonymous user of Reddit, under the pseudonym “deepfakes”, posted several porn videos on the Internet. The first to attract the attention of many was the deepfake of Daisy Ridley, but also a simulation in which you see the actress Gal Gadot, having sex with her half-brother or others depicting celebrities like Emma Watson, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift or Scarlett Johansson.

The latter spoke publicly about the problem at the Washington Post in December 2018, describing the Internet as a “vast wormhole of darkness eating itself”. The videos, obviously fake, become increasingly difficult to distinguish from the real content, representing a serious threat, especially for the less known women, who can see their reputation damaged due to involuntary pornography.

In times of Covid, where the distancing from others, leads to a consequent increase in sexting and cybersex, it only remains to wish us a favorable process towards their normalization. How can you fight the revenge porn then? Avoiding to retract? Of course, this would eradicate the problem in its infancy, but it would make another flourish, namely that of once again repressing female sexuality. So what to do?

  • Talk about it all the time, not just when there’s a noise scandal.
  • Claiming your own sexuality without shame, as it makes us wonderfully humans and does not in any way affect our morality.
  • Condemn the crime and do not confuse it with a joke.
  • Be sympathetic to the victims.
  • Turning heads high because trusting is a courageous gesture, breaking that trust is instead true cowards.

Ps: I suggest you follow Silvia Semenzin, digital socialist and promoter of the Italian campaign against revenge porn.