Ana was just 18 years old when two photos of her naked were published on her own Instagram account. More than a hundred people saw the images, both shared in his story, before he managed to erase them. “I know there were arrests and that they went through the whole town,” he laments. She is convinced that her ex-partner entered her profile and posted them. What Ana suffered is known as pornovenganza: a person sends an intimate photo to his partner and later, when the relationship ends, the recipient shares it without consent. Ana faces a type of sexist violence that is gaining strength and that the Ministry of Equality wants to combat: digital gender violence.
Four years after the incident, Ana still gets nervous when she talks about it. He did not want to give his last name for fear that his ex-partner, who continues to live in the same town in the north of Madrid, would read this report. The young woman acknowledges that what happened on Instagram was only the height of the pattern of verbal and physical abuse that she had been suffering for a few months. Of course, it was the most public episode. Equality define digital sexist violence as all that “conduct of gender violence that is exercised through new technologies, social networks or the Internet”. It can affect any woman who has a mobile phone or a device with internet access.
Encarni Iglesias founded the association seven years ago Stop Digital Gender Violence to advise and accompany victims of these attacks, which, according to her, have a component that distinguishes them from other forms of sexist violence: being online, it is more public and humiliating. It is not something that happens behind closed doors. An explicitly sexual image “can go viral in nothing”, warns the expert. In many cases, like Ana’s, these attacks are born out of spite that an ex-partner feels: “When it happens, the victim feels that she is naked in the middle of the town square and everyone is looking at her,” Iglesias summarizes.
Sexual harassment through social networks and other digital platforms has doubled in the last 10 years, although experts say that the vast majority of cases are not reported. Violations of this type have passed from 63 in 2011 to 124 last year, according to the latest data on cybercrime from the Ministry of the Interior. Among these crimes is the pornovenganza and the sextortion, when a person is blackmailed with files of sexual content of themselves. The repercussions of these attacks can be tragic, as in the case of 32-year-old Verónica, who committed suicide in Madrid in 2019 after her co-workers shared a sex video in which she appeared without her permission. Or that of Tiziana, 31, who took her own life in Naples in 2015 after her ex-partner released her intimate recordings.
Gender violence in the digital sphere is one of the main axes of the future sexual freedom law, popularly known as the law of only yes is yes, approved by the Council of Ministers last July and now pending to go through Congress. The draft states that “special attention will be paid to sexual violence committed in the digital sphere”, such as non-consensual pornography and sextortion.
In addition to social networks or messaging applications such as WhatsApp, photos can end up on pornography web pages, always without the consent of those who appear on them. Jennifer, 29, is one of more than 80 women, including several minors, who were recorded while urinating in the street during the A Maruxaina pilgrimage in the summer of 2019, in the Galician town of San Cibrao. The videos, in which their faces and private parts appear, were recorded with hidden cameras and ended up on online porn sites, several of which are paid. Jennifer was “in shock“:” I would never have imagined that my clients, my friends or my neighbors would see me on a porn site. ” She, like other victims, went to a psychologist to deal with the trauma. “It affected me a lot, especially because I thought a lot about what people would say about me,” he says.
It was a year later, in 2020, when Jennifer and the others affected found out about this violation of their privacy and filed a lawsuit to investigate who had done it. At the end of last month, a judge from Lugo (Galicia) dismissed the case, against the criteria of the Prosecutor’s Office, and assured that recording intimate images of women in the street and uploading them to a porn platform does not constitute a crime, since it occurred in public roads. However, the Women in Equality Association of Burela (Bumei), which supports the victims in their judicial fight, has filed an appeal against this decision before the Provincial Court of Lugo. José Manuel Oliveros, the lawyer who is handling the case of these women, believes that the future law on sexual freedom will not be enough to combat this type of aggression: “The regulations do not entail a modification of Article 197 of the Penal Code.” Therefore, although the Penal Code punishes the unauthorized disclosure of intimate images, it will only be considered a crime if the recordings were obtained in “a home or in any other place out of reach of the eyes of third parties”, according to the text.
The magistrate’s decision has left Jennifer speechless: “We are very frustrated and do not understand why the judge does not even allow it to be investigated.” The Association of Women in Equality of Burela (Bumei), which supports the victims in their judicial fight, has presented an appeal to the Provincial Court of Lugo. Mary Fraga, president of Bumei, considers that what happened at the A Maruxaina pilgrimage is “a clear example of digital gender violence.” In addition, Fraga adds, “the decision of this judge can have very dangerous consequences in the fight for the freedoms and rights of women, because it is giving impunity to anything that is recorded on the public highway without the consent of the woman ”.
Ana also denounced what she suffered, but, like the women of Galicia, she does not believe that justice has been served in her case. In 2018 she had a speedy trial in the Court of Violence Against Women in Alcobendas, in Madrid, but could not prove that her ex-boyfriend was the one who published the images on Instagram, since they were published through Ana’s profile, not her own bill. In order to prove it, he had to undergo a longer trial. “At that time I had just turned 18 years old. I just wanted to get rid of all this nightmare and I said no, ”Ana explains. Her ex-partner received a two-year restraining order for the other physical and verbal assaults, but the digital violence went unpunished.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.