Revenge Porn

Revenge Porn with Anna Richardson 1

If the Twitter response is anything to go by, Revenge Porn scared the crap out of a whole load of people last week. The Channel 4 documentary sees Anna Richardson investigate the truly 21st century phenomena, in which scorned exes maliciously share intimate pictures of their former partners online, without their consent – and its on the rise.

When was the last time you shared a sexy selfie with a partner? It’s a pretty commonplace occurrence nowadays – run of the mill, even – and chances are most of us don’t put a great deal of consideration into the decision, save for how to achieve the most flattering angle. But more and more men and women (overwhelmingly women, really) are living to regret those decisions, or at least to regret trusting the person they shared their photos with, when their photos wind up on revenge porn websites to be potentially viewed by tens of thousands. What’s more the victim’s personal details – names, email addresses, social media accounts and locations – are often shared too, leading to droves of unwanted solicitation from horny perverts the world over. These truly are some terrifying times we live in.

Overall Revenge Porn does a good job of highlighting this new and most heinous of crimes, but it is certainly not without some serious missteps. Time spent speaking with real life victims is a bit thin on the ground, and Richardson sidesteps the opportunity to delve a little deeper into the consequences that many of them resultantly suffer from, with many in reality having to leave their homes or jobs, or else falling prey to physical assaults.

The time spent with victims focuses mainly on the emotional impacts they suffer – the humiliation, the distress and the betrayal – but ultimately this is compromised by Richardson’s unconvincing attempt to step into their shoes by uploading her own pornographic photos to one of the most well-known revenge sites. This stunt becomes the central theme around which the rest of the program seems to revolve, with Richardson claiming it would allow her (and supposedly us) to get a flavour of how it feels to be exposed in such a way.

Potentially this feels rather insulting to true victims of revenge porn, when you consider all of the differing factors – the fact that Richardson had control over her own pictures, posting them under false contact details and editing her face to hide her true identity. As one member of the public rightly put it when speaking to Richardson, “it’s the trust thing” that makes this crime so deplorable. Richardson may have experienced the sexual harassment and body shaming sent her way by the viewers of her photos, but ultimately it is preposterous for her to claim any kind of solidarity with true victims when her own experience was devoid of any aspect of betrayal or helplessness. It felt far more like an exercise in self-absorption than a serious attempt to connect with the heart of the issue, and unfortunately drags down the investigative tone.

In any case, Revenge Porn still packs some punches – particularly of note are interviews with some unapologetic perpetrators, which will no doubt leave you open-mouthed. Whilst some will criticise the focus on female victims, the segregation is in some way necessary due to the different nature of revenge porn committed against men. When directed against women, an element of power and control is central; the harassment is a frenzy of misogynistic ‘slut-shaming’ and threats of rape, which don’t often find their equivalent across the gender divide.

Revenge Porn does the proper thing in choosing to focus on women, and should leave every one of us with a visceral sense of mortification and empathy for others of our sex. Anna Richardson really shows us that we are all potential victims, and the realization is not particularly pleasant.

Revenge Porn can be watched on All4.

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