Cover image retrieved from The BBC. 4-minute read.
“Rule number one: Don’t pi— a b—h off,” says one of a number of captions underneath two uploaded naked photos of Luke Aquilina in a bath.
The pictures were posted by 29-year-old mother of three Sarah Davies after discovering that Aquilina, her ex-boyfriend, had created a profile on a dating site just days after the couple had broken up.
Before she actually posted the photos though, Davies first contacted Aquilina in order to threaten him. Aquilina, unshaken, replied, “Put them up if you want and feel the full force of the law.”
Davies then uploaded the photos on the dating site Aquilina used with a message that said: “Those who laugh last will laugh longest. You are a laughing stock.” She also uploaded them on Snapchat.
When Davies was finally arrested, she told police, “I didn’t know it was so serious. I just wanted revenge.”
Davies would later also say that she only intended to humiliate Aquilina “a little bit,” but her plan spiraled out of control as the images were circulated “widely and publicly.”
In case you weren’t aware, Davies’ form of revenge, whether circulated “widely and publicly” or not, is illegal. It’s called image-based abuse (IBA). IBA, a term that can be used interchangeably with revenge porn, is when “intimate, nude, or sexual images are distributed without the consent of those pictured. This includes real, altered (e.g. Photoshopped) and drawn pictures and videos.”
While Davies may have gotten revenge in her mind, the cost of her actions was a little more than she bargained for. Davies received a six-month jail sentence, a curfew, a hefty fine, had to perform 15 days of rehabilitation activity, and she was put under a restraining order.
More so than that, however, her actions left Aquilina feeling depressed and concerned about his personal safety, which is where the problem of revenge porn gets real.
Let’s get the facts.
Revenge porn can affect anyone
The story of revenge porn generally seems to go something like this: a girl and a boy are in a relationship. The girl sends naked pictures of herself to the boy. Some months and a bad breakup later, the boy decides to get back at the girl by posting the pictures of her to social media or a revenge porn site where they can be viewed, downloaded, and saved.
But that’s not the case here: it’s Davies, a woman, posting naked pictures to get back at Aquilina, a man. This reality makes clear that revenge porn is not a gendered issue—it can happen to anyone.
Related: AI Tools Are Making It Possible To Create Fake Porn Videos Of Almost Anyone
A study using a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults found that one in 25 online Americans had someone threaten to post or actually post their nude or nearly nude image without their consent. A similar study in Australia estimated an even higher prevalence rate with as many as one in 10 Australians having had a sexual or nude image of themselves distributed without consent.
These studies make apparent the fact that revenge porn can happen to anyone, but they inspire the following question: how does revenge porn affect those it happens to?
Revenge porn survivors suffer similar trauma to those who are sexually assaulted
Research shows that the impact of nonconsensual pornography includes public shame and humiliation, an inability to find new romantic partners, mental health effects such as depression and anxiety, job loss or problems securing new employment, and offline harassment and stalking, and that’s all regardless of gender.
In one study using a nonrandom sample of 1,244 nonconsensual porn survivors, surveyors found that more than 50% of survivors’ full names and links to social media profiles accompanied the naked photos, and that 20% of survivors’ email addresses and phone numbers were posted with their photos.
This means that once a photo is posted online, it is challenging to completely remove it from the web. In other words, the harmful effect lasts far beyond the initial posting.
In some cases, in attempts to reduce the emotional impacts of revenge porn, survivors will delete their online social media profiles. Sadly, this tends to have the opposite effect, worsening the emotional impact of the revenge porn as it separates survivors from positive social connections with friends and family. In more severe cases, survivors even completely alter their lives and routines to minimize the impact of revenge porn.
Aquilina’s response to Davies’ actions—his feeling depressed and unsafe—offers a face, name, and story that supports this research.
Why this matters
The way Davies’ handled her break up with Aquilina seems pretty excessive, especially when you factor in the way it harmed Aquilina mentally.
Revenge porn is commonly thought of by most people as an invasive response to relationship difficulties, right?
Yet, a recent study at the University of Kent showed that a number of people, if in Davies’ position, wouldn’t have had much trouble taking similar action against someone who’d ended the relationship.
That’s right, the study showed that about 99% of people surveyed expressed at least some approval of revenge porn being posted online. And while only 29% of participants reported that they would actually post revenge porn, more than 87% of respondents expressed an excitement or amusement toward it. Yikes.
Especially when it’s clearly acknowledged that it can happen to anyone, and the effects are devastating, revenge porn or IBA is no laughing matter.
That’s why we send love, not nudes.