Non-Consensual Intimate Images: Can ICT help?

Sandra Aceng Aug. 26, 2020

Non-consensual intimate images, more commonly known by the misnomer “revenge porn”, refers to sexually explicit images and videos that are captured, published or circulated without the consent of one or more persons in the frame.

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Non-consensual intimate images are a systemic and societal problem and not only a limited matter of “revenge” – it ranges from voyeuristic neighbors to hidden cameras in hotel rooms. Uganda’s law does not provide adequate redress to victims of non-consensual intimate images and lacks gender-sensitive provisions to recognize non-consensual intimate images as violence and breach of privacy. In some instances, the law was used to punish the victims. The lack of consent is not a consideration in the legal and social treatment of non-consensual intimate images victims.

As changes in law, policy and social norms will take time, the only immediate recourse available currently for most sub-Saharan women to prevent incidents of non-consensual intimate images is to practice good digital security. Additionally, new threats such as stalkerware and spouseware are enabling greater perpetration of intimate gender-based violence.

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Not 'revenge porn'

Women of Uganda Network @RightsCon Online 2020

Women of Uganda Network, a member of the Digital Human Rights Lab organized a strategy session on July 28th 2020 during the RightsCon Online 2020 conference to create awareness on the understanding of non-consensual intimate images, the legal environment in Uganda, new trends in tech and the role of digital security. This session was facilitated by Rohini Lakshané, Director (Emerging Research), The Bachchao Project and Peace Oliver Amuge, Ag. Coordinator, Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET).

The lived experience of a non-consensual intimate images victim

The session was kicked off by Judith Heard, the founder of Day One Uganda sharing her lived experience as a victim of non-consensual intimate images .

Judith pointed out that women in Uganda face different means of extortion such as blackmailing and once their images or videos are being leaked, victims are sometimes asked to pay an amount of money for their non-consensual intimate images ‘not to be publicly’ distributed online. These text messages are usually sent by males to females suggesting that women were the ones being wrong. “I was told that I would be arrested if I stayed anywhere in the city” -- The headlines in the papers say “Finally she is arrested” -- As a result, Judith had to report at the police station every month. She adds, if she was found guilty according to anti-pornography act 2014 then she would be imprisoned for 10 years. Judith wondered, “Why is it that the victim gets taken to jail?”, “Why doesn't the police do anything to arrest the people (perpetrators) who published the photos or videos?” She supplements, “How are victims protected at the end of the day? How is the police walking with her (as a victim) from Uganda?...“There is no one protecting me,” she added.

As a result of the arrest, the victimization, and the psychological implications that she went through, Judith has on several occasions shared her story to inspire and give hope to victims of non-consensual intimate images by learning from her experience.

Read more: 'I was arrested and shamed for leaked nudes': Ugandan model Judith Heard

Non-Consensual Intimate Imagery: Not “Revenge porn”

Sandra Aceng, Program Officer, Gender and ICT Policy Advocacy at WOUGNET gave a contextual background and understanding of non-consensual intimate images and “Revenge Porn”. Sandra informed the audience that the Ugandan case regarding women online violence through this epidemic goes unreported. Non-consensual intimate images are seen as inexistent during discussions on violence against women and girls because non-consensual intimate images are not seen as a form of ‘online violence.’ Therefore, non-consensual intimate images undermine women's gender equality and it is a breach of privacy, sexual expression and freedom of expression online. The victims who are most likely women are told to ‘apologize’ for their leaked sexually explicit intimate images or videos and the perpetrators never get to be known or arrested.

Most people regard non-consensual intimate images as “revenge porn” which implies that taking a picture or allowing someone else to take your picture is a ‘pornographic act’ but actually this is not the case. When you send an intimate sexually explicit image or a video to someone else rather than the person who you were planning to send it to, it will be classified as “pornography.”

Most times women (musicians, activists, human rights defenders, etc.) are targets for non-consensual intimate imagery because they are perceived as inferior and safer targets. They are also held more accountable for their acts in society than men because of the patriarchal societal settings of Uganda. Once these sexually explicit images or videos have been captured, theys are distributed to various social media platforms, instant messengers and pornographic sites. However, in most cases, these intimate images or videos are stolen from the victims’ phone or laptop. They are also captured from the bathrooms, swimming pool, changing rooms and stores. Those non-consensual intimate images are later used to stalk and extort money from victims and their families, or even friends. So, “Revenge porn” is a misleading term that ends up even misleading the general public and policy makers. The law does nothing to protect victims and rather blame them for their leaked intimate images and videos. This becomes a double trauma for the victims.

Read more: “Revenge Porn”: The Understanding and Impact of Non-Consensual Intimate Images (NCII) Violence

Legal framework for Non-Consensual Intimate Images

Joan Katambi, Assistant Lecturer of Uganda Institute of ICT gave an insight about the legal Framework in Uganda regarding non-consensual intimate images especially the Anti-Pornography Act 2014. She mentioned that the laws in Uganda do not protect the victims of non-consensual intimate images. The Anti-Pornography Act 2014 does not take into account how these intimate pictures are shared and it does not take into account that these women are victims, not perpetrators.

Read more:

Social and cultural environment

Patricia Nyasuna, Program Officer, WOUGNET spoke about the social and cultural environment of non-consensual intimate images in Uganda.

She explained that Uganda is a religious country and has a diversity of cultures which enforce different moral codes. Because of this, we are socialized to behave in certain ways right from childhood. These highly impact perceptions of people when things that they consider “morally incorrect”, such as women’s nudity being publicly distributed online.

A lot of victimization builds up especially from fellow women which is quite disappointing: it causes a lot of pain, confusion, anger, depression and worst, silence for the victim. As a victim you are asked whether you had your family, your children in mind before taking these sexually explicit images or videos. It gets to a point where victims may have to make public apologies like the case of Desire Luzinda.

In 2017, Uganda set up a Pornography Control Committee with nine members composing of some religious leaders with the intent to detect, and curtail the circulation of pornographic material.

Patricia adds that for the Government it is more of policing morality and protecting the country’s moral values.

She emphasized the need to promote social responsibility for posting and sharing information because no one deserves this kind of humiliation.

Read more: Humiliated and shamed: fate of survivors of non-consensual sharing of intimate images in Uganda part I

New trends in Tech for collecting data without consent

Sandra Aceng shared the newest developments in tech such as spouseware/ stalkerware commonly known as spyware. She mentioned that during the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak there has been an increased usage of boss ware used by employers to spy on their employees. This is a threat to digital human rights especially women’s rights online and their privacy.

Read more: Working from home? Beware of “bossware”

She said that once the spyware is downloaded, the location data, e-mails, phone calls, images, videos etc. can be collected

HoweverInternet users can avoid these new threats to online safety and privacy from being plugged onto their ICT tools by;

To raise awareness on non-consensual intimate imagery on social media WOUGNET (@wougnet) launched a program under the Ttaala program by Defend Defenders with the hashtag #AskforConsent.

Read more: Holistic security strategies and measures to address non-consensual intimate images (NCII)