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Revenge Porn: How a Jilted Lover Can Destroy Your Life

What does it say about society that websites where angry men shame their ex-lovers are thriving?
 
 
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In the centuries-old tradition of human beings looking at images of other human beings naked, the  internet is perhaps the biggest game-changer since the film camera.

Porn sites are some of the most-visited places on the web, and just about anything you could imagine (and lots of things you probably couldn't have come up with on your own) is a mere Google search away. While that's great news for folks who have, say, an unrequited zombie fetish or a deep desire to see old men swaddled in mohair diapers, the almost entirely unregulated buffet of internet  pornography also has a whole host of downsides – one of the most odious being the popular genre of "revenge porn".

On revenge porn sites, users upload x-rated photos of women (often ex girlfriends or lovers) without the women's permission. Send a naughty photo to your boyfriend and when it turns out he's a pig, your image is all over the internet, often with your name, location and links to your social media accounts. The purpose of revenge porn isn't to allow regular guys the opportunity to see some naked girls-next-door; it's explicitly purposed to shame, humiliate and destroy the lives and reputations of young women.

Luckily, some of those women are refusing to be shamed into silence. More than two dozen of them have filed a lawsuit against one of the websites, Texxxan.com, as well as its host, GoDaddy.com. Some of the women have lost their jobs; all of them have been exposed and exploited, first by men they trusted and then by entities simply looking to make a buck off of misogyny.

Gender cyber harassment is nothing new (pdf), and revenge porn sites are part of a widespread, deeply sexist online culture everywhere from blog comment sections to YouTube videos to message boards. Anonymous sexualized harassment of women online has been around since AOL chatrooms, and it seems to be getting more mainstreamed, more organized and more efficient. The internet is not a nice place to be a woman – something  I found out first-hand, and not just through the ongoing threats, harassment and stalking I've received as a feminist blogger.

When I was a law student at NYU, I found myself the subject of hundreds of threads and comments on a website called AutoAdmit. Reading post after anonymous post about how your classmates and future professional peers want to rape you is not a particularly pleasant experience; seeing those posts right next to details of what outfit you wore to school yesterday, how tall you are or what kinds of comments you made in class feels awfully threatening.

It's hard to explain the psychological impact these kind of anonymous posts have, when these people know your name, face and exactly where you are during the day. You can't walk down the hall at school without wondering if that guy who just made eye contact with you is going to go home and write something disgusting about you on the internet, or if anything you say in class is going to be quoted on a message board as evidence that you are a stupid cow, or if any one of these anonymous commenters is going to take their sexually violent urges offline and onto your body.

My reaction was to shut down. I felt like I was in a fishbowl, so I just refused to look outside of the glass. I'm a very social person, but in three years of law school I made only two friends. I skipped a lot of my classes; when I did go, I kept my head down.

 
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