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Revenge porn pandemic: Rise in reports shows no sign of slowing even as lockdown eases

Experts warn an increased level of reports to the UK’s Revenge Porn Helpline could be here to stay.

 

There are fears experts could be seeing the “tip of a very big iceberg” of online revenge porn as new figures show reports have continued to surge throughout the summer, prompting fears of a “new normal” in exploitative behaviour.

The Revenge Porn Helpline, run by charity SWGfL – part of the UK Safer Internet Centre (UK SIC) – says the number of reports of revenge porn has gone “through the roof” during lockdown.

They are now concerned that this increase in reports has not slowed down, with new figures showing reports continued to surge through the summer.

The charity is now in the midst of its busiest year on record, raising fears the increased level of reports could be the “new normal”.

Revenge porn, sometimes called intimate image abuse or non-consensual pornography, can involve the sharing of intimate images or videos of someone, either on or offline, without their consent.

The helpline, which was set up in 2015, saw a 98% increase in cases in April 2020, compared with April 2019. This is a trend which has continued month on month, even as lockdown has been eased. 

Last month, the helpline dealt with 285 cases, a 63% increase on the 175 dealt with in August 2019.

So far in 2020, the hotline has dealt with 1,914 reports of revenge porn, with fears this figure could rise to as many as 2,700 before the end of the year.

Sophie Mortimer, Helpline Manager of the Revenge Porn Helpline, said the helpline has already dealt with more cases than it had in the entirety of 2019, and that 2020 could see as many as 2,700 cases being dealt with.

“Since lockdown, the numbers have gone through the roof,” she said. “I am not seeing anything getting better. I am not seeing any real change or much cause to be optimistic.

“This seems to be more of a long-term behaviour we are witnessing now which was triggered by lockdown. This may be the tip of a very big iceberg.”

There were fears that, during COVID,  there was an increase in the amount of sextortion cases due to the rising popularity of online dating services – these cases normally affect men, however during COVID there has been a rise in the number of cases of female victims.

There are also concerns more people may be stuck with abusive partners, or at home with more time on the internet.

The UK SIC is a unique partnership of three world-leading charities (SWGfL, Childnet, and the internet Watch Foundation) working together to deliver critical advice, resources, and interventions to help keep everyone, especially children and young people, safe online. 

David Wright, Director of the UK SIC and SWGfL, said “The lockdown produced an extreme set of circumstances which are bringing a lot of problems.

“What we are seeing here, however, suggests something more long-term has happened which could mean we will be busier than ever before. It’s worrying to think this could be the new normal. More people may be exposed to abusive partners, or could be trapped in situations with people they can not escape.

“People need to know the helpline is here for them and that we are ready to take action. This kind of abuse really can ruin lives, and people who are being terrorised with the knowledge images or videos of them are being shared without their consent deserve help, support, and justice.

“Just imagine if an image of you was being posted and shared online, beyond your control; it’s devastating.  The Helpline has already removed over 72,000 individual images”

Due to concerns around the Coronavirus outbreak, the Helpline will be operating an email only service for the time being, therefore voicemail messages may not be responded to immediately. Please contact us by email on help@revengepornhelpline.org.uk: we are open Monday to Friday from 10am to 4pm and we will do our best to help you. If you are in immediate danger, please call 999.