Participate Translate Blank profile picture
Image for Revenge porn: an emerging crime in Italy and Europe

Revenge porn: an emerging crime in Italy and Europe

Published on

Translation by:

Ilaria M.

SocietyEditors PickLatest

Nowadays in Italy, the vortex of revenge porn can be accessible to anyone. This was demonstrated in a Wired survey released in April, uncovering shocking figures about the activity of this crime. This problem is also found in other European countries. How can we fight this crime of the digital age?

On April 3rd in Italy, during a full lockdown for the spread of the Covid-19, found itself in new spotlights: Wired Italia drew attention to a public chat of 40,000 members on Telegram with sexual or erotic photos and videos published without the consent or awareness of the victims. This was a case of revenge porn - an emerging crime characterised by intrusiveness and lack of privacy, as is common on the web.

But what is revenge porn?

In a research conducted by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) in 2017, "Cyber violence against women and girls", revenge porn was defined as a form of virtual violence. The study shows that up to 90% of the people affected are, in fact, women. The EIGE considers the internet not only as a place of leisure, information and sharing, but also as a necessity for the economic well-being of a person. As a human right, it becomes essential to guarantee security even in the digital public space that should be a place of emancipation for everyone.

Telegram, in particular, seems to be the perfect vehicle for this form of violence, because the application focuses its success on a special encryption called Server-Client which has, among other things, encouraged the free and uncontrolled dissemination of pirate material. The Wired survey estimated 21 telematic channels connected to each other (also through "backup groups" to be used in case the main one was discovered and deleted), about 30,000 messages per day and 50,000 subscribers in two months. Although men may also be victims of revenge porn, the Italian case involved ex-girlfriends, minors but also other women.

In fact, those who have never shared their intimate images are not excluded from the exchange of sexual material. How is this possible? It is relatively easy to modify a selfie downloaded from a social network through any photo editing application. For example, several girls have seen their costume pictures published on Instagram, with the crucial difference that in the popular image they were nude.

Law and revenge porn in Italy

In Italy, the revenge porn bill was unanimously approved by the Chamber of Deputies on 17 July 2019. The bill calls for imprisonment from one to six years and a fine of 5,000 to 15,000 euros for "anyone who sends, delivers, gives, publishes or disseminates images or videos of sexual organs or sexually explicit content, intended to remain private, without the consent of the persons represented." The same fine applies to anyone who contributes to the dissemination of the material in order to harm the persons represented, while it increases if the crime is committed by the spouse, even if separated or divorced, or by a person linked (or who has been linked) by a relationship to the offended one.

Italian lawyer Cathy La Torre (@avvocathy on Instagram) is an activist at the forefront of the battle against revenge porn, has reported the porn groups by Wired through a complaint to the court, and drafted, in collaboration with @iodonna_en, a guide on what to do in case one's photo ends up in one of the groups.

La Torre considers the individual victim's complaint to be of primary importance. In Italy, in fact, revenge porn is only punishable if the harmed party makes a complaint, but not if it is a third party, like a family member, making the complaint. But it is not necessarily a limit of the Italian legislation: revenge porn falls within the category of crimes that have to do with particularly intimate matters and, in these cases, not everyone is in a position to report. The urgency is rather to protect victims who decide to expose themselves.

For La Torre it would be a good starting point to invest in digital education: "I have come into contact with hundreds of underage girls, victims of revenge porn on Telegram, who have not reported because they are ashamed to tell their parents. Parents should understand that it is not their daughter's fault if she ended up in that group with an absolutely demure and neutral selfie, but the problem is how social media are used."

The issue gets more complex because the law on revenge porn in Italy does not consider the possibility that intimate images can be stolen and used in a pornographic way to the detriment of the person in a context that offends and mortifies their dignity.

Although it is called "revenge porn", it is not always true that the motive is the desire to take revenge against a person. According to La Torre, sometimes it is simply the logic of the group that pushes those who perform the offensive act to share the images. At the root of the problem - and the solution - there may be a question of sentimental upbringing. "Identifying oneself in the person whose images have been disseminated and thinking, 'but what if it were me?' would be a first step to generate empathy. Let's also disprove the myth that men would take it well just because they are men, the diffusion of their intimate images is not proof of their virility," says La Torre.

Revenge porn in Europe

On a European level, there is no overarching legislation on revenge porn that is shared by all states, but only individual national laws. The first country to introduce a law on revenge porn was Germany in 2014. Unlike the Italian case, here it is expected that people who spread private material of sexual nature will be punished with two years' imprisonment and fines of up to 60,000 euros. In the same year, a regional court in the Koblenz region issued a very special, albeit forward-looking, law which obligates partners to delete their intimate photos after the end of the relationship.

The same penalty is provided in the United Kingdom since 2015, although with limits: as in Italy, the anonymity of victims is not guaranteed, once they choose to report. Following this, France in 2016 defined its bill as a "law for a digital republic". Yet, years later, it seems that stronger measures are needed. One of the most recent cases of revenge porn in France in February 2020 concerned Benjamin Griveaux, former candidate running as mayor of Paris. After the release of his intimate material, he decided to withdraw from the race to the Parisian municipalities by publishing a video.

From the Wired Italia investigation, we learn that forms of gender-based violence cannot be classified only in unambiguous terms as "femicide" or "rape". It's time to investigate in sociological terms what underlies the abuse of men on women (or vice versa), but this requires analysis by experts and, above all, the willingness to talk about it openly.

Translated from Il revenge porn in Italia ed Europa: cos'è e come si combatte