A study published by the Data & Society Research Institute (New York, United States) in 2016 found that 1 in 25 Americans are either threatened with or victims of nonconsensual image sharing, or “revenge porn,” and that women under 30, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community are much more likely than men to be threatened with revenge porn. Practical and moral aspects of women’s digital rights to privacy has been a topic of discussion and debate recently.
Lack of digital rights to privacy can sometimes end very tragically. For instance, a 21-year-old married woman from India allegedly tried to end her life after her former boyfriend posted her private pictures on social media. The affected woman consumed phenyl as she felt that the incident has irrevocably ruined her reputation and married life. Fortunately, the girl was saved. But we will never know how many such stories caused the deaths of the victims.
According to Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”.
Even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a prominent example of “soft law” (instruments that do not have any legally binding force) such provisions are contained in the legislation of almost every country. Thus, it becomes clear that what some people perceive as “a joke” (for instance, distributing intimate photographs) is a violation of the law. So even if there is no information privacy law or other similar acts in the country, this fact does not mean that the person who is guilty of disseminating personal information on the Internet will not be prosecuted later.
Some organizations even have special guidelines on how to behave if your intimate photos have been leaked. For example, the Citizens Advice Scotland organization states that a person should save the evidence, report it to the police, take statements, and also advise to contact an organization that focused mainly on this issue. The entire guideline does not apply specifically to women, but it can have quite significant support since all the steps are described in detail in it.
Similar guidelines are offered in other countries by lawyers or specialized organizations, in some cases even by government departments. This is already a positive wake-up call to the issue of women’s rights in the digital environment.
Stigma and Victim Blaming Silence Women
However, even though theoretically the law can protect a woman in case her personal photos being disseminated on the Internet, the other side of the coin is the moral aspect of everything that happens.
The fact is that the whole process of contacting the police or other governmental bodies can be accompanied by the difficult experiences of a woman, her moral torment, and fear. The Internet is replete with various stories and questions about how you can avoid the spread of personal correspondence, advice from women who have already experienced this type of violation of their rights and dignity. Basically, all these stories are permeated with pain and fear, shame in front of relatives and friends. This is especially felt and dangerous in those societies where patriarchal foundations are especially strong.
The concept of victim-blaming is widespread, and instead of support, the only comments a woman hears is that she herself is to blame for such a situation and that it was inappropriate to send her photos or store them on her phone. At the moment when she needs compassion and understanding, she is faced only with a wall of indignation and rejection from her loved ones.
Thus, legal support alone is not enough in this case. Moreover, it is one thing if a woman knows exactly who is responsible for the dissemination of her personal information. But when it happens anonymously, it becomes impossible to track the culprit. It is precisely the issue that is becoming one of the biggest challenges both for the legal and for the digital security systems. Thus, the moral suffering of the girl can be mixed with the fact that the states are not yet able to fully protect people from hackers or other types of anonymous obtaining personal information by others.