Attributions of victim responsibility in revenge pornography

Date03 October 2019
Published date03 October 2019
AuthorJeff Gavin,Adrian J. Scott
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression,conflict & peace,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Political sociology,policy & social change,Social conflicts,War/peace
Attributions of victim responsibility in
revenge pornography
Jeff Gavin and Adrian J. Scott
Purpose Revenge pornography is a growing risk among adolescents and young adults. Often stemming
from sexting, some victims of revenge pornography report experiencing victim-blame similar to that
accompanying the reporting of rape. The purpose of this paper is to explore the assumptions that underlie
attributions of victim-blame, with a focus on perpetrator and victim responsibility, as well as gendered
assumptions surrounding sexting.
Design/methodology/approach A total of 222 UK university students (111 male, 111 females) read one
of two versions of a hypothetical revenge pornography scenario, one involving a male victim of a female
perpetrator, the other a female victim of a male perpetrator. They then respondedto an open-ended question
regarding responsibility.
Findings Qualitative content analysis of these responses identified three inter-related themes: the victims
behaviour, mitigating victim responsibility and minimising the behaviour.
Social implications The majority of participants in this study attributed at least some responsibility to the
victims of revenge pornography depicted in the scenarios. Sex of the victim played a less important role than
assumptions around sexting.
Originality/value The study suggests that victim-blame is linked to the consent implied by sharing intimate
images with a partner, but is also mitigated by the normative nature of this relationship practice. There was
some evidence that the experience of male victims of revenge pornography is trivialised. These findings have
implications for e-safety and victim support.
Keywords Qualitative content analysis, Revenge pornography, Image-based sexual abuse, Victim-blame,
Technologically facilitated sexual violence, Victim responsibility
Paper type Research paper
Revenge pornography is a form of technologically facilitated sexual violence that has recently
been subsumed by the umbrella term non-consensual pornography (Hall and Hearn, 2017),
which refers to a set of practices involving uploading nude or semi-nude images/videos of a
person without their consent(Bates, 2017, p. 22). This term encompasses a range of practices,
including covert acts such as upskirtingand downblousing, surreptitious images of someone
showering, bathing or having sex and images hackedfrom victimsdigital devices or cloud
storage (Uhl et al., 2018). It also includes the more familiar practice of revenge pornography,
whereby images are distributed by former intimate partners, often linked to victimssocial media
pages or other identifying information. Henry et al. (2017) use the term image-based sexual
abuse to highlight the element of control, coercion and humiliation that these acts often entail.
Revenge pornography is now a criminal offence in England and Wales. Police data, however,
indicate that only a minority of reported instances are investigated, mainly due to lack of evidence
and withdrawal of support by the victim (BBC, 2016).
Like all acts of non-consensual pornography, revenge pornography victimization includes public
shame and humiliation, with a recent study showing that images posted on the most popular
revenge pornography sites being viewed thousands of times (Uhl et al., 2018). Revenge
pornography can have a severe negative impact on victims, in terms of both threat to the victim
and mental health (Bates, 2017). Based on in-depth interviews with revenge porn survivors,
Bates (2017) notes similar experiences to victims of rape, including the type of victim-blaming
Received 12 March 2019
Revised 28 June 2019
Accepted 9 July 2019
Jeff Gavin is based at the
Department of Psychology,
University of Bath, Bath, UK.
Adrian J. Scott is based at the
Department of Psychology,
Goldsmiths, University of
London, London, UK.
DOI 10.1108/JACPR-03-2019-0408 VOL. 11 NO. 4 2019, pp.263-272, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599

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