A journalist uploaded her own naked pictures to a revenge porn website. What happened next is awful

Bethan McKernan@mck_beth
Wednesday 12 August 2015 17:50
news

Warning: Some people may find this article NSFW

Anna Richardson raises her hand to her mouth in shock as she looks at her laptop screen.

"Oh my God. This isn't right. This isn't normal," she says.

The TV presenter had just uploaded pornographic pictures of herself on to a revenge porn website, and the comments were rolling in.

"I would destroy this bitch and treat her like the slut bag she is," reads one. "Spit in her mouth and choke her while throat f--king," says another.

Speaking to i100.co.uk, the journalist said she was "pig ignorant" about the hideous reality of online sexual revenge before being approached to work on Channel 4's new documentary Revenge Porn.

I knew a great deal about sexual health from working on The Sex Education Show but this was something new to me. I thought it was bad, you know, an ex posting pictures of your boobs on Facebook, but not like this. It's a lot more complex and insidious than people think.

Folani Prehaye, a victim of revenge porn and an active campaigner for tougher laws to tackle the problem, is featured in the documentary

Richardson said that during the course of filming the documentary in the UK and the US she learned that there are three stages to the revenge porn cycle. Firstly, spurned lovers - usually men - upload sexually explicit pictures of the women who upset them to Facebook or other social media without their ex's consent to get their own back.

Once they're online, though, there's no telling where the pictures can end up. Many shots get posted to revenge porn websites where they are viewed hundreds of thousands of times by people who want to "consume misery and be the perpetrators of misogyny and humiliation".

But the last and most gruesome stage, Richardson says, are the message boards on these websites, which are like "the Wild West of the internet." Within the revenge porn community, members win accolades for driving victims to self harm and suicide.

Under anonymous profiles, commenters trade information they can glean from social media or hacking about these women's routines, addresses, where they work and where their children go to school. They talk about how and why they'd rape, murder or dismember the woman in question.

Hunter Moore, founder of Is Anyone Up?, one of the first revenge porn sites, was arrested by the FBI and charged with hacking and identity theft in 2014

So who are these people? The motivation to create the sites is cruel but clear: Hunter Moore, who set up one of the first ones, earned up to $13,000 a month charging women to remove pictures uploaded by exes and those he hacked from private servers himself. The reasons why the desire to pour such vitriol on female strangers is so strong and widespread are less obvious.

So Richardson used her own naked body as bait to try and find out.

Originally the documentary team thought about using a model, but the presenter said she felt uneasy about the idea. She told us:

I felt really uncomfortable about doing that to another woman. It made sense that if I was going to understand it, I needed to do it myself.

Richardson thought that volunteering herself as a subject would enable her to recreate the revenge porn timeline better and help her understand what the victims must go through - and the prospect scared her.

"I was extremely anxious and distressed about it, actually," she said. "One of the most frightening things is that at one point, we went to the website to check on the pictures, and suddenly they had disappeared. We don't know why or where they had gone."

Experts the team consulted with said that after the pictures had been up for about two weeks the host of the site may have figured out Richardson wasn't really an angry ex-boyfriend, since her face had been blurred out of the pictures - but she has no way of knowing.

It wasn't about the pornographic stuff. It's humiliation these guys want. It's a petri dish of people indulging in really toxic, negative sides of their personality, and never having to take responsibility for what they say or do.

While the UK outlawed revenge porn three weeks ago, many campaigners say significant loopholes mean many victims won't get justice, and it will be a long time before the appetite for these sites ebbs away.

Ultimately, Richardson says, we need a culture shift towards a society where women can own their own bodies and sexualities. "Every woman is entitled to take pictures of herself, and do what she pleases with them." It's the power balance that needs to change, she says.

In a sense the reason I was OK with uploading my own pictures is because I was in charge when I was doing it. I got to think, 'I own my own body, you don't get to humilate me. F--k you.'

Revenge Porn is on Channel 4 on Monday 17th August at 10pm.

More: Meet the YouTube star making legal history with a revenge porn case

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