UK

Almost 1,000 revenge porn images taken offline after calls to helpline

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Media captionRevenge porn victim Laura Bullock talks about how her ex-boyfriend shared naked pictures of her

Nearly 1,000 revenge porn images have been taken offline following calls to a national helpline, figures show.

The Revenge Porn Helpline told BBC Radio 5 live it had received almost 6,000 calls and emails since it launched in January 2015, with three-quarters of callers women.

However, it warned it does not have government funding beyond March.

The government said more than £180,000 had been invested in the service and it would make a decision "in due course".

Revenge porn refers to the act of a partner or ex-partner deliberately distributing images or videos of a sexual nature without the other person's consent.

It became a crime in England and Wales in April 2015, with a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment.

Laura Bullock was 19 when she became a victim after an ex-boyfriend had hacked into her Facebook account.

'Broke down'

She discovered that nude photos, meant for a new partner, had ended up on a number of porn sites.

"Initially I just broke down, I just didn't know what I was supposed to do," she told 5 live.

"My mum took me to the police station the next day, but that night I was in so much of a state and had to sleep in her bed because I just couldn't cope."

She advised victims of revenge porn to speak to someone as it was "the best thing" she did.

"If I didn't have my family and my friends, I don't even know if I would be sitting here today."

Ms Bullock added: "After everything that happened, I just couldn't be close to [my new partner].

"In my head I'd have people's comments from the sites and it just tore me up... I just had to end it."

Image copyright Laura Bullock
Image caption Laura Bullock described how it felt to become a revenge porn victim

She shared her diaries from the time with 5 live.

In one entry, she wrote: "I've never been 100% on the way my body looks because of spinal surgery in 2010, so thousands of people seeing my body was horrifying.

"Your body should be for you and close acquaintances to treasure, not for the pleasure of revenge porn site users."

In another, she wrote: "I feel like all these men who have seen me and left comments on the sites have been intimate with me, without my consent."

The helpline said revenge porn was a problem that affected teenagers to people in their 60s.

'Scared to tell'

The helpline said it could not quantify the number of images online as new ones were uploaded every day across the world, but estimated it is many thousands.

It also shared anonymous examples of some of those who had sought help.

One person said: "I broke up with my ex about a year ago. He is messaging me constantly and ringing me.

"I don't like him, I don't want to be with him, but I have to pretend I do only because he is threatening to send my nudes to my sister and best friend and post them online.

"Yesterday he messaged me saying he will put me online and show everyone who I really am.

"I'm scared to tell anyone. I don't want my parents to find out anything."

Hidden camera

Another said: "I broke up with my ex-partner in November.

"A few weeks afterwards, he told he had a concealed camera in his bedroom, and he had nude pictures of me and a video tape of a sexual nature.

"He began threatening me. In the beginning of January, he sent some images that he had.

"They were nude pictures taken of me whilst I was getting dressed in his bedroom,

"I was unaware at the time pictures were being taken of me and did not give my consent.

"The following day he contacted some of my work colleagues via Facebook, describing the images he had and asking if they wanted to see them."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Posting revenge porn became an offence in England and Wales in 2015

The Revenge Porn Helpline, which is run by three people, offers support to victims and advice on how to gather evidence.

Laura Higgins, the helpline's manager, said it also contacts sites that are hosting revenge porn images to ask them to take them offline.

She said some sites "begrudgingly take down the images" while others refuse to do so, but social media sites have "really strong reporting" mechanisms to help.

Ms Higgins said the helpline was "extremely grateful" for the government's financial support, but said: "Without alternative funding in place, we are sadly at risk of losing this vital service.

"We are looking at various avenues of support, including charitable grants and commercial businesses, and will be launching a crowdfunding project shortly."

'Harrowing'

Ms Higgins added: "It's such a harrowing thing to find out that someone has abused your trust in some way.

"While some people are able to manage some of it on their own, don't suffer in silence."

A report released last autumn by the Crown Prosecution Service said that more than 200 people had been prosecuted since the revenge porn offence was brought in.

The Ministry of Justice said there had been 64 convictions for revenge porn in 2015.

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