The men who exploit family shame using 'revenge porn'

Man looks at image on laptop

The BBC has found that women who come from families that follow codes of honour are being deliberately targeted for financial gain.

In one case, a woman says she parted with more than £17,000 after her lover secretly filmed them having sex.

A BBC Newsnight investigation has heard the stories of more than 100 women who have been the target of "revenge porn," but is, in fact, often premeditated.

In many cases, the images are hardly pornographic.

"Soraya" (not her real name) was just 16 when a man she met on Facebook persuaded her to send naked pictures to him online. A sheltered British teenager of Pakistani origin, she had never had a boyfriend before.

She was "terrified" when he threatened to send the photos to her family if she did not give him money. She handed over £500.

"Sara" married a man in an Islamic ceremony and planned to spend the rest of her life with him. He later created a website promoting her as an escort and sent it to high profile members of her local Muslim community. Both women come from families that strictly follow codes of honour and shame.

Images like these can be devastating, as Shereen Aziz-Williams from the honour-based violence campaign group, The Henna Foundation, explained: "The consequences are getting disowned, ostracised, being packed off back home to be married or, in the worst case scenario, getting killed."

BBC Newsnight heard testimony from another South Asian woman who said she was being blackmailed by an Indian man with whom she had a relationship. He wants a British visa and has threatened to use intimate photos of her unless she marries him.

Sara told us she later discovered the man who exposed her has also done it to three other Bangladeshi women. Soraya heard her abuser also targeted other young women.

Image caption Shereen Williams from the Henna Foundation says the consequences for victims can be extreme

Williams explained: "It could be a girl who usually wears a scarf, who's not wearing one; or a girl showing her arms, or posing seductively fully clothed, that's deemed inappropriate."

"Soraya" ended up under police protection after a friend alerted them that she was at risk of forced marriage. Although she had paid money to stop her family finding out about the photos, she believes the rumours got out anyway.

She told the BBC: "You can lose so much for your family even finding out. It's such a risk. I do strongly believe that the rumours did get out. The threats were to take me back to my father's homeland, Pakistan, and get married off and stay there.

"What my dad used to threaten me by saying was, 'I'll cut up all your pieces of your body and put it in a suitcase and bury it in the garden. And I actually genuinely thought he meant it."

Colette Paul, chief constable of the Bedfordshire Police told BBC Newsnight: "People pick on vulnerable people because they do know the shame and dishonour they are perceived to bring is a method to control them. Not in all cases, but some. It's not someone who's jilted them, it's an even more serious crime. They are targeted."

This week, the new law to combat revenge porn came into force in England and Wales. It makes it a specific offence with a potential two year jail sentence.

But will it make a difference to the women whose testimony the BBC heard? Perhaps only if they are willing to report what has happened to the police and if their communities address the codes of honour and shame that see their daughters blamed instead of treated as victims.

You can watch the full Newsnight report by going to BBC iPlayer

More on this story

Around the BBC