U.K. woman sentenced for posting revenge porn on Facebook

Revenge porn is defined by an intention to harm a person by posting nude or sexually explicit photos of them online. It’s humiliating and can feel, according to victims, like an assault has taken place.

But the vast majority of victims are women, and the vast majority of revenge porn perpetrators are men.

That’s why a U.K. case has sparked so much interest this week. Paige Mitchell, a 24-year-old resident of Stevenage, a small town 30 miles north of London, became the first woman sentenced under a new 2015 British law banning revenge porn.

Mitchell was handed a suspended six-week sentence on Tuesday, avoiding jail time for now. She was also sentenced two weeks for assault, after it came out that she slapped girlfriend Rebecca Brinkley during a fight—the same fight that prompted Mitchell to post four sexually explicit photos of Brinkley to Facebook.

Mitchell removed the photos after about 30 minutes once her mother told her that her actions were illegal, according to the Daily Mail. Regardless, friends of the couple (who had been together 14 months at the time) saw the photos and Brinkley said in a witness statement that the damage had been done.

“[The photos] made me feel embarrassed, embarrassed to walk down the street,” Brinkley said in court, reported the Telegraph. “People who I didn’t want to see my body have seen me [naked]. I don’t want to feel like that.”

The case highlights both the pervasive issue of domestic violence in same-sex relationships and the fact that revenge porn laws apply to everyone regardless of gender.

“These vengeful crimes are predominantly thought of as being carried out by men,” Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutor Joanna Coleman told the Daily Mail. “This sentencing will highlight that anyone can be guilty of this offence and regardless of the defendant’s gender, once reported, it will be taken seriously.

“Crimes where an intimate image of an individual is shared without their permission in such a public forum is invasive, humiliating and distressing for the victim and leaves them feeling violated,” Coleman said.

In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a study showing that women were more likely to suffer domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault at the hands of a female partner—with 43.8 percent of lesbians reporting incidents of intimate partner violence. In contrast, 35 percent of heterosexual women reported the incidents. Bisexual women showed the highest levels of intimate partner violence at 61.1 percent.

In the U.S., there have been only two cases of women being sentenced under revenge porn charges. In May, a woman in Boise, Idaho, was slapped with felony “video voyeurism” charges after she posted a topless photo of another woman to Craigslist with an insulting caption. Media coverage of the incident left questions as to whether Linda Silva was in a romantic relationship with her victim. According to Idaho’s KTVB, local police Sergeant Joe Ramirez “said the victim and Silva were friends, adding that he used the term loosely.”

In April 2014, a pair of 16-year-old New Jersey high schoolers (one male, one female) were charged under a child pornography statute after they showed nude pictures of the boy’s ex-girlfriend to friends at school. Police received flak for saying that the 17-year-old victim could also face charges for taking nude selfies and sending them to her then-boyfriend.

But the vast majority of revenge porn, or nonconsensual pornography, crimes have been committed by male perpetrators. In the U.K., 139 such cases crossed police desks in the first six months of the year. Two-thirds of those cases, reported the Guardian, involved female victims under 30 whose perpetrators were male ex-partners. 

Twenty-five U.S. states have laws explicitly banning revenge porn distribution. A federal law is expected to be introduced this fall.

Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara

Mary Emily O'Hara is an LGBTQ reporter. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, NBC Out, Daily Dot, Broadly, Vice, the Daily Beast, the Advocate, Huffington Post, DNAinfo, Al Jazeera, and Portland's Pulitzer Prize-winning newsweekly Willamette Week, among other outlets.