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Revenge Porn is Sexual Violence, not Millennial Negligence

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By Kristen Zaleski for The Conversation

U.S. Representative Katie Hill was the latest victim of a form of sexual abuse that’s become increasingly common: revenge porn.

Intimate photos of her were leaked to the media and published, without her consent, for the world to see – a transgression Hill suspects her estranged husband was behind . The photos implicated Hill in a sexual relationship with a congressional staffer, an accusation that potentially put Hill in violation of House ethics rules.

Hill, a 32-year-old freshman representative, ended up resigning her seat on October 27.
Yet some of the ensuing coverage, instead of zeroing in on the leaked photographs, centered on blaming Hill for not being careful enough.

“The best way to avoid being a victim of revenge porn is to not take nude selfies and send them to people,” political commentator Alice Stewart announced on CNN.

In an article titled “A Word to the Young,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd implored millennials to do a better job protecting themselves and their reputations online.

“Don’t leave yourself vulnerable by giving people the ammunition – or the nudes – to strip you of your dreams,” she wrote. “OK, millennials?”

Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brought up Hill’s “error in judgment” and noted that what you share online “can come back to haunt you.”

As someone who studies the effects of sexual violence, I’ve heard this kind of victim-blaming far too often. To me, “Be careful of the photos you take of yourself” sounds eerily similar to “Don’t wear suggestive clothing.” Sexual violence happens because of sexual perpetrators. It has nothing to do with the clothing people wear or the photos they take of themselves.

Make no mistake: Revenge porn is a form of sexual violence, with the same motivations, power dynamics and potential for psychological harm at play.

It can happen to anyone

Revenge porn falls under the umbrella of what scholars call “technological forms of sexual violence.”

Other examples include “nonconsensual pornography,” which specifically refers to photos that are taken for a partner’s eyes, only to be eventually disseminated to others; “up-skirting,” which involves snapping sexually intrusive photos, often of someone’s genitals, without their knowledge; and “sextortion,” a form of sexual blackmail that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos fell prey to in early 2019.

What happened to Hill isn’t an outgrowth of millennial culture. The nonconsensual sharing of intimate images and videos has been happening for decades. For example, the first issue of Playboy featured nude images of Marilyn Monroe that Hugh Hefner used without her permission. A sex tape filmed by Pamela Anderson and her then-husband Tommy Lee was famously stolen and leaked in 1995.

But the growing role of digital technology in our everyday lives – and the ever-expanding scope of everyone’s digital footprint – has made more people vulnerable to this sort of abuse and exploitation.

One study from 2017 found that 1 in 12 participants reported that they’d had nude images taken of them and posted publicly against their wishes. In Australia, that number is 1 in 10 – a rate that jumps to 1 in 2 for those who are indigenous or report having a disability.

An Australian survey also found that 1 in 3 members of the LGBT community, like Rep. Hill and her alleged partner, report having intimate photos shared without their consent.

It can happen to anyone, at any age. Research from 2017 shows that almost 20% of reported victims are over the age of 50.

Control, retaliation and humiliation

Just as domestic violence was once misunderstood and tolerated, many people today fail to grasp how nude photographs can be wielded as weapons of abuse.

Yet the nonconsensual sharing of intimate images is a form of control, retaliation and humiliation, just like any other form of sexual violence.

The Power and Control Wheel is a tool used by domestic violence experts to understand the ways in which domestic violence occurs in everyday interactions. Originally developed in 1993 by activists Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar, it demonstrates the abusive tactics beyond physical violence – such as withholding money, threatening to leave and isolating partners from friends and family – that are used to wield power and control.

The Power and Control Wheel. Domestic Abuse Intervention Program

At this year’s Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues conference, psychologists Asia Eaton, Sofia Noori, Amy Bonomi, Dionne P. Stephens and Tameka L. Gillum explained how technological forms of sexual violence can be found in every category of the Power and Control Wheel. For example, one spoke of the wheel is economic abuse; another is coercion. It’s not difficult to see how intimate, private photographs can be wielded by an abusive partner to threaten someone’s job.

Abusive partners don’t even need nude photos to hurt their signficant others; photos or video footage can be altered via deepfake technology to create convincing and humiliating images.

The lasting psychological effects of having nude photographs of yourself shared online are just starting to emerge. The few studies that have been published show that victims deal with many of the same issues that survivors of rape and sexual harassment grapple with. One published in 2017 found evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts among revenge porn victims. Other studies have shown how being targeted with revenge porn can lead to the development of trust and privacy issues that last a lifetime.

“Ever since those images first came out I barely left my bed,” Rep. Hill said during her final speech to the House of Representatives. “I went to the darkest places that a mind can go. I’ve hidden from the world.”

Those words ring all too familiar for victims who have endured sexual violence, both online and offline.

Instead of engaging in a victim blame narrative that accuses millennials of being shortsighted, let’s focus on the 1 in 20 Americans who perpetrate this form of abuse that violates privacy, causes psychological harm and ends careers.

By Kristen Zaleski is a Clinical Associate Professor of Social Work, University of Southern California and does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Celebrity News

Amber Heard Uses American Sign Language at Women’s March

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LOS ANGELES (TMZ) — Amber Heard is about as talented and passionate as they come, which was on full display this weekend during the Women’s March … where she showed off her ASL.

The actress was one of many celebs who showed up in L.A. Saturday for the fourth annual event — which got started back in 2016 when President Trump was elected. Amber got on stage at one point and gave a heartfelt speech about her role in the fight.

Check it out … while she never outright says his name, it sounds like some of what she’s talking about here might be touching on her marriage to Johnny Depp … which ended in a long, nasty legal battle where allegations of lies and abuse were made.

After talking to the crowd, Amber shared a sweet moment with a fan on the ground … who spoke to her in sign language. Turns out, she’s fluent in ASL — and it definitely shows.

BTW, we also got Amber arriving in an SUV and asked about her injured foot — which has been straddled with a brace for a few weeks now after a trip to Hawaii. She joked sharks had gotten a hold of her, and when we asked if she was serious … she shot a knowing look.

It also appears she’s moved on to a new significant other in the new year … cinematographer Bianca Butti, who had Amber by the hand as they made their way into the festivities.

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)


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Human Rights

Border Patrol Officials Dodged Congress’ Questions About Migrant Children’s Deaths

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Border Patrol Officials Dodged Congress’ Questions About Migrant Children’s Deaths

by Robert Moore for ProPublica

WASHINGTON D.C. — The Trump administration sought to “conceal information” about the death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy in Border Patrol custody, a House subcommittee chairwoman said at a hearing Tuesday.

Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., said the Department of Homeland Security has “consistently failed to maintain transparency by stymieing congressional inquiries. This raises concerns that they are hiding serious issues with management, in addition to the leadership vacancies at the top of the department. One example of this is the department’s decision to conceal information on the death of Carlos Hernandez Vasquez.”

Rice chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation and Operations, which had a Tuesday hearing to examine DHS efforts to prevent child deaths in custody. Six migrant children died in government custody between September 2018 and May 2019, the first such deaths in a decade.

Much of the hearing focused on Carlos, who died on May 20 in a Border Patrol cell in Weslaco, Texas. A ProPublica investigation in December, which included video of Carlos’ last hours and death, raised questions about his treatment by Border Patrol agents and contracted medical workers as his condition deteriorated.

“Despite information requests by this committee, it was not until a ProPublica report was released seven months later that Congress and the public learned more about what happened to Carlos, that his death may have been caused by the failure to provide urgently needed medical care and the failure to follow the most basic procedures to simply check on a sick child,” Rice said in her opening statement.

Two high-ranking Homeland Security officials testified at the hearing, but neither responded to Rice’s criticism. The two officials — Border Patrol Chief of Law Enforcement Operations Brian Hastings and DHS Senior Medical Officer Dr. Alex Eastman — used their opening statements to stress the unprecedented nature of the surge of families and unaccompanied children at the border last year.

They said DHS quickly scaled up medical care for migrants at the border following the deaths of two children in December 2018, using medical professionals from the Coast Guard, Public Health Service and private contractors. Eastman said the surge of migrant families and children was “an unconventional problem that required an unconventional solution.”

Under questioning from Rice, Hastings said the video of Carlos’ death revealed by ProPublica was “troubling” but sidestepped questions about his death because of an ongoing investigation by the DHS Office of Inspector General.

Hastings described one change in “welfare checks” made in the wake of Carlos’ death. Records obtained by ProPublica showed that a Border Patrol agent logged three welfare checks on Carlos in the four hours he was lying on the floor of his cell, dying or dead. The medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Carlos told ProPublica that the agent looked through a window but didn’t enter the cell.

In July, then-Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders ordered that “any subject in our custody” receive welfare checks every 15 minutes and be documented in the system, Hastings said.

Hastings’ word choice drew a sharp rebuke from Rice.

“You mean person, not subject, in your custody. Because that’s what they are. They’re people, not subjects,” Rice said.

“Person, yes ma’am,” Hastings said.

Inside the Cell Where a Sick 16-Year-Old Boy Died in Border Patrol Care

Rice and other Democrats criticized reports released last month by the DHS inspector general into the deaths of two Guatemalan children in Border Patrol custody in December 2018. The reports found no wrongdoing by agents in the deaths of Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, and Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8.

“Publicly available summaries of these investigations are extraordinarily narrow in scope. They focus only on whether DHS personnel committed malfeasance and not whether the department’s policies and resources could properly protect the children in its care,” Rice said. She criticized the inspector general for declining an invitation to testify before the subcommittee.

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., also criticized the inspector general for taking a year to complete investigations of the two deaths. Jakelin and Felipe were both held by Border Patrol agents in her district.

“Even more concerning, the OIG limited its investigation scope to only determine whether there was malfeasance by personnel and did not consider whether CBP’s policies and procedures are adequate to prevent migrant child deaths,” Torres Small said. “As I’ve said from the beginning, the reason for these investigations is not to punish people, it’s to keep this from happening again. It’s to make sure that we have the protocols in place in case we’re faced with this challenge again.”

The DHS Office of Inspector General did not immediately respond to requests from ProPublica a hearing about the scope of the investigation or the reason for not testifying at Tuesday’s hearing.


ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force. We dig deep into important issues, shining a light on abuses of power and betrayals of public trust. Follow on Twitter at @ProPublica 



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Politics

Michael Avenatti Taken Into Custody by IRS Agents

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Michael Avenatti taken into custody by IRS agents on allegations of violating terms of pre-trial release

LOS ANGELES (KABC) — Michael Avenatti, the former attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels, was taken into custody by IRS agents on allegations of violating the terms of his pre-trial release.

Avenatti has been facing criminal investigations in New York and California on a variety of issues , including alleged extortion of Nike in New York, wire fraud of a client and tax fraud in California.

The State Bar of California last year began the process to disbar him from […]

Continue reading at abc7.com

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