Surviving Revenge Porn – 3 Indian Women Share Their Experiences - Homegrown

Surviving Revenge Porn – 3 Indian Women Share Their Experiences

Sanam Sharma* was in the 11th grade when a photograph of her in her underwear was shared with her classmates. Manya Sen* was 22 and Aditi Rao had just finished 6 months at her first job when intimate photographs of them were circulated without their consent. “My legs literally just gave out from under me and I was just sitting on the steps outside of my tuition centre for a good 30-40 minutes with a thousand thoughts rushing through my head,” says Sanam. “A bra picture may not sound like a big deal now with every girl basically posing like that and putting it all over Instagram for followers and likes, but this was before all that became common. These were vicious 16 and 17-year-olds in school.”

India doesn’t really have any specific laws when it comes to ‘revenge porn’ or what should be called image-based sexual abuse, because let’s get real - pornography involves two (or more) consenting participants, this is not consensual. Calling it revenge porn dilutes just how violating such an act actually is. But, for the purposes of this article, we can use this more popular term.

What it refers to, however, is the sharing of personal and intimate sexual images or videos by former partners, often used as blackmail and done out of spite. “We would constantly be fighting and I think our relationship just fizzled out at that point so I broke it off. He started threatening me, saying that If I left him he would send my nude pictures to my parents and family members since he knew all of them. I was scared. We were family friends but my parents are conservative, they didn’t know that we were dating. He knew all the people I worked with. I spent weeks speaking to him and begging him to delete them. He would say he had but then the next day I’d ignore his call or text and he’d send me the image as this kind of leverage he had over me. It was basically blackmailing. Our common friends told me that he’d sent them pictures of me, laughing and talking trash about me. He had the number of one of my colleagues and he just sent him the picture as well without saying anything. It was mortifying,” says Aditi. Her ex-boyfriend would oscillate between drunken threats on the phone to apologising and ‘forgiveness’ for her ending the relationship. Even though they’ve parted ways she still fears what could possibly happen if he ‘gets in a mood’. “It has definitely affected my mental health. I can never trust that he’s actually deleted them or possibly still holding on to them. I think about it all the time.”

Like Aditi, Manya too faced the wrath of a jilted ex when she ended a year-long relationship. “I found my face photoshop-ed onto these porn clips and photographs and with my full name and college name written below,” she says. “He sent them to me himself saying that ‘this is what I deserved’ for being a slut just because we broke up and a couple of months later I started dating someone else. He started posting it on Reddit threads and god knows where else, taking screenshots and sending them to me to prove that he could ruin my life.”

Source: VICKY LETA / MASHABLE
Source: VICKY LETA / MASHABLE

From the people that we spoke to, Manya was the only one that had approached the police for help. “The first time they started writing out my statement to file an FIR for harassment but then the officer asked me to show him these pictures and I didn’t know what to do. It was clear that he was judging me. His tone was condescending and I told him that I would only show them to a female officer and there wasn’t one present at the time,” Manya tells us. Having returned the next day with her roommate for support this time, Manya says that the female officer was perhaps even more judgemental than the previous one, constantly asking her why she was even in a relationship, that it was against ‘our culture’ and being shamed for even being intimate with a man she wasn’t married to. “She definitely shamed me. She started in a subtle way but once I showed her the screenshots she just seemed angry. She said ‘Aaj kal toh sab theek hi lagta hai ladkiyon ko. Party bhi karo, masti bhi karo, gandagi phelao, phir jab subha hoti hai to shor machao (girls think anything goes nowadays. First you party, have fun, spread filth and then when morning comes, you cry foul).” Maya left the station that day without filing a complaint.

Police insensitivity aside, if a case is filed it would come under the purview of the Information Technology Act and Penal Laws, sexual harassment as well as relating to the breach of privacy under the Privacy Act, as Delhi-based lawyer Sanya Nair explained to us. “It’s situational with each case being judged independently based on the nature of the harassment and the content being shared without consent. There are definitely laws that can help you but most such cases are resolved without trials. ‘Revenge porn’, terminologically speaking, doesn’t have a place as yet under the law but there are things that can be done.” When we spoke to a representative of the Mumbai Cyber Crime Police Station (BKC) they reiterated the same that legal recourse is in place – what you need is screenshots as proof to submit to file an appropriate case, but rarely do women get to that stage.

Earlier this year, in what probably is a first in the case of revenge porn in India, a man was sentenced to 5 years in prison for sharing a video of his ex-girlfriend. While laws may exist on paper, it is the culture of shame that surrounds female sexuality (of any kind) and fear of judgement and victim-blaming that most women and young girls end up suffering in silence.

“I had terrible anxiety and depression when this was all happening, my mental health had completely deteriorated. It was like I went viral in my own school in the 12th grade. I cried non-stop for the first few days. Thankfully we were off from school on prep-leave so I didn’t have to see my classmates every day but every time we had to go to school for anything I was slut-shamed, called names, laughed, pointed at. I felt totally alone,” adds Sanam. “And why did he do all of this? He said it’s because I told people we were dating and it embarrassed him. That I didn’t take ‘his permission’ before telling people, that too after I refused to send him another picture after taking my bra off. What kind of warped logic is that?”

"Revenge Porn" - Ishmeet Nagpal | UnErase Poetry


Sanam didn’t share what she was going through with her parents, who she says assumed she was under extreme stress because of her examinations. Looking back at the situation she says what troubles her the most was the reaction people had towards her while no one questioned the actions of the boy. “It definitely affected me on a deep level, especially my ability to connect with people in relationships now and fully trust them. It seems like it happened so long ago but it’s still all so fresh” she says.

After speaking to Sanam the long-term impact that revenge porn can have on a person’s life becomes clear. Globally, social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit have prohibited the posting of revenge porn and sexual images without consent. Google search engine too has removed from its listing all revenge porn websites. Many regions like the UK, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, states in the USA and Japan have legislation in place that criminalises revenge porn.

India’s cybercrime laws don’t exactly encompass the nuances of revenge porn – the dissemination of the content need not always be for ‘revenge’ purposes as the term may indicate or pornographic as to showing complete nudity. Neither does it include the sensitivity and understanding needed on the ground-level to execute it. The gender imbalance when it comes to revenge porn makes clear the patriarchal attitude and continued aggressions – micro or full-fledged – that women continue to face in real life and on the internet.

Sanam puts it aptly, saying, “It’s the easiest method for fragile masculinity to act out and for men to punish women in the digital age. We’re a country where rape videos are bought and sold. There is no notion of female freedom here. We’re punished for being sexually active and then denying sex – for being with men and then leaving them too. I don’t think India is anywhere close to understanding the multiple layers of revenge porn when it comes to law and order. It would have been great to have a support system in the form of counsellors and police offers, but we’re far from that.”

**Names changed upon request of contributor to protect their identity.

For those in need, you can reach out to the Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling here and read more about how to get revenge porn removed from the internet here.

Representational feature image courtesy of Angelica Alzona.

If you liked this article we suggest you read:

5 Indian Women Share Their Experiences With Filing Sexual Harassment Cases

‘I Found My Face Morphed Onto A Pornographic Video In India’

Behind The Lens Of Women’s ‘Nudies’


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