Making a BBC documentary revealed the truth about my nude photos being stolen online
Jessica Davies researched online nude photo sales for the BBC - BBC / Hannah Livingston
For nearly a decade, I've received messages from men online telling me someone is pretending to be me. I use my photos to fool them out of the money.
It started as a trickle but turned into a flood - I had messages every day for a week and as soon as I reported a fake social media profile another one popped up. It has been one of the strangest and most disturbing experiences of my life to see these false versions of me whose online personas are so at odds with my own. But until now I never understood why it happened to me.
When I was 18, I made the decision to do topless photo shoots for magazines like Nuts and Zoo. It's the honest photos from that time that are used to this day - mixed with regular photos of me that are posted on Instagram or Twitter.
It was only recently that I became aware of how these images are also being used for something known as "e-whores". It's a disgusting term for a disgusting practice. Photos of people - mostly women - are collected and then used to create fake sexual experiences online to extract money from unsuspecting victims.
To fuel this there is an underground packaged photo trade. I've seen websites that look like pages from an Argos catalog where you can buy hundreds of pictures of different women. They sell at different prices depending on how rare or "unsaturated" they are - and it's not just former glamor models whose images can be captured and used that way. Some look like they came from regular social media accounts, others come from revenge porn incidents where women have explicit photos of themselves shared online by an ex without their permission.
You may not even know this is happening to you until it is too late. And even knowing that "e-whoring" is there, sometimes the photos are tampered with or changed slightly so that they cannot be searched in reverse order or found online.
My photos were ultimately used by these scammers, and the only way I could find out was by posting a picture of myself on one of the underground online forums that trade and sell pictures of women. I was recognized immediately and someone offered to sell me my "package" for an Amazon gift card worth $ 15 (£ 11). It was horrible to finally know how and why my photos are being misused.
Some people reading this may think, well, you got these topless photos taken in the first place, so whatever comes next, you deserve it. My answer to this is yes, I have posed for them - but I have only consented to them being published and used in their original context. I have not given permission to be misrepresented for the rest of my life and to use my images however anyone likes it and for whatever purpose.
Jess - BBC / Hannah Livingston
I am not the only person targeted. The evidence I uncovered while creating a new documentary on the subject for the BBC suggests there are thousands of women whose photos are abused or shared without their consent. However, the shame associated with the leakage of your intimate photos prevents many people from talking about it.
The personal consequences of this for you can be very serious. Revenge porn fighter Megan Sims, 24, one of the people I spoke to for the film, had her photos and videos shared and sent to friends and family thousands of times for a former partner in 2016. The experience culminated in a suicide attempt.
“I felt like my life was over, I thought, OK, I'll never get a job, my reputation is corrupted now, everyone thinks differently about me, my pictures are out there forever now, so everyone can see me me kind of like that, ”she told me.
"That's the thing about the internet, there is a feeling of hopelessness."
Megan has since campaigned to change the law in the Republic of Ireland. Recently, new laws went into effect there making it a criminal offense to share pictures of another person without their consent. Image-based sexual abuse is illegal in the UK. The victim must demonstrate the intention to cause harm. Under the Domestic Violence Act, the threat of posting sexual or intimate pictures becomes a criminal offense with a prison term of up to two years.
“[It] boils down to agreeing. We need informed consent and we need to start calling people ... saying no, it's not okay because it's so dehumanizing I think for those affected, "says Megan.
UK law on the matter is not set out exactly, but there are a few things you can do if you find that your picture is being abused online.
First, you can mark it on the platform it is displayed on. Most social media websites have a reporting feature that removes profiles or photos that violate the guidelines. If you can find it on another website and take the photo yourself, you can submit a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) request to remove content that infringes your copyright.
You can also report it to the police if you suspect that revenge porn laws have been violated or if there is evidence that someone has been cheated on. But I am sad to say that when your photos are repeatedly abused and shared by you to remove them is an ongoing and ongoing struggle - I can tell you that from personal experience.
No one who ever takes a topless or nude photo, whether originally shared amicably or stolen from them, should be effectively punished forever online. The guilt and shame needs to be redirected to the people who abuse these images, but right now it seems like we as a society are not doing that and instead are effectively saying, "Well, this is the internet for you."
That's not good enough anymore, and it definitely won't be good enough for the next generation of young women for whom picture sharing is part of everyday life. Something has to change.
Additional coverage from Hannah Livingston
Watch to see when files are stolen on BBC One tonight, 10:45 p.m. Or stream on BBC iPlayer.
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