Fake-porn videos are being weaponised to harass and humiliate women: ‘Everybody is a potential target’
By Drew Harwell, as published at The Washington Post.
The video showed the woman in a pink off-the-shoulder top, sitting on a bed, smiling a convincing smile.
It was her face. But it had been seamlessly grafted, without her knowledge or consent, onto someone else’s body: a young pornography actress, just beginning to disrobe for the start of a graphic sex scene. A crowd of unknown users had been passing it around online.
She felt nauseated and mortified: What if her co-workers saw it? Her family, her friends? Would it change how they thought of her? Would they believe it was a fake?
“I feel violated — this icky kind of violation,” said the woman, who is in her 40s and spoke on the condition of anonymity because she worried that the video could hurt her marriage or career. “It’s this weird feeling, like you want to tear everything off the Internet. But you know you can’t.”
Airbrushing and Photoshop long ago opened photos to easy manipulation. Now, videos are becoming just as vulnerable to fakes that look deceptively real. Supercharged by powerful and widely available artificial-intelligence software developed by Google, these lifelike “deepfake” videos have quickly multiplied across the Internet, blurring the line between truth and lie.
But the videos have also been weaponised disproportionately against women, representing a new and degrading means of humiliation, harassment and abuse. The fakes are explicitly detailed, posted on popular porn sites and increasingly challenging to detect. And although their legality hasn’t been tested in court, experts say they may be protected by the First Amendment — even though they might also qualify as defamation, identity theft or fraud.
Disturbingly realistic fakes have been made with the faces of both celebrities and women who don’t live in the spotlight, and actress Scarlett Johansson told The Washington Post she worries that “it’s just a matter of time before any one person is targeted” by a lurid forgery.
Johansson has been superimposed into dozens of graphic sex scenes over the past year that have circulated across the Web: One video, falsely described as real “leaked” footage, has been watched on a major porn site more than 1.5 million times. She said she worries it may already be too late for women and children to protect themselves against the “virtually lawless (online) abyss."
“Nothing can stop someone from cutting and pasting my image or anyone else’s onto a different body and making it look as eerily realistic as desired,” she said. “The fact is that trying to protect yourself from the Internet and its depravity is basically a lost cause. . . . The Internet is a vast wormhole of darkness that eats itself.”
Read the full article at The Washington Post.
They even film themselves doing it [video]Read more
We recently called out skincare company Frank Body over their 'Send Nudes' lip and cheek tint, a product that through its name serves to normalise and legitimise the sexual harassment and requests for nude images experienced by teen girls. A group of adolescent girls approached the company with their concerns, but Frank Body dismissed them.Read more
Schoolgirls as young as 12 will be taught how to send naked selfies in Victorian schools.
The ‘Art of safe sexting’ program is to be rolled out in classrooms to instruct school girls how to ‘safely’ send nude images of themselves, apparently by cropping out their heads and faces and any identifying features.
In a five-minute video on Rosie website, girls are told that “sending a nude pic of yourself can be a fun and flirty thing to do” and given tips on “sexting done right”. It also provided information about relevant laws and some of the risks of sending naked images.
Program author Briony O’Keefe argued, “We know they are going to engage in it, so a harm minimisation approach is really important.” However, experts have slammed the program and accused it of promoting misinformation.
Former Victoria Police officer and cyber-safety expert Susan McLean called the information “flakey” and “a crap resource”, and emphasised there was no safe way to send a naked image.
Collective Shout co-founder and advocate for women and girls Melinda Tankard Reist said that encouraging teen girls to crop their heads and faces out of sexualised images serves to further dehumanise girls:
“The art of safe sexting' advises girls to crop out their faces from nude images before sending. This just de-humanises the sender even more and exposes the complicity of the program's designers in encouraging girls to send de-personalised/ disembodied sexual body parts for boys to get off on.”
The program does a disservice to girls by promoting sexting as a potentially fun and sexy activity. The reality is more complicated, with many teen girls reporting feeling pressured and coerced to send nude photos, and a widespread culture of sexual harassment, disrespect and male entitlement.
A study out of Northwestern University earlier this year revealed teen girls’ experiences of being pressured to send nude images. Researchers analysed 500 accounts from teenage girls, finding two-thirds had been asked to send explicit photos, with boys engaging in threats and harassment if they did not comply. In response, 20% of the girls gave in.
The adolescent girls shared both immediate and long-term repercussions of saying no to boys’ demands. Out of the 500, only 12 said there was no backlash from refusing boys’ requests for naked images. Girls described feeling trapped, stuck or scared of the consequences of saying both yes or no. One reported death threats after saying no. Read more.
Closer to home, a Plan International Australia and Our Watch survey in 2016 of 600 girls aged 15-19 found that levels of abuse and harassment were endemic:
58% agreed girls often receive uninvited or unwanted indecent or sexually explicit material such as texts, video clips and pornography.
51% agreed that girls are often pressured to take sexy photos of themselves and share them.
82% believe it is unacceptable for a boyfriend to ask a girlfriend to share naked photos of themselves.
The harm minimisation approach which encourages girls to crop photos of identifying features implies that the only harm in underage girls sending naked photos of themselves lies in later being identifiable. However, she would be identifiable by other means if the recipient wanted to get revenge and share the image. It’s also not unheard of for men and boys to photoshop heads onto such photos.
The program completely ignores the overarching problem of girls existing as a pornographic supply for boys. We do not see websites devoted to ‘dick pics’ or to humiliating men and boys, however boys trade sexual images of girls like trading cards. Encouraging girls to participate ‘safely’ does not challenge this culture of objectification or the entitlement of men and boys. It is clear this practice does not quench boys thirst for objectified women, it makes it worse.
“Harm minimisation” fails to address the actual factors at play- the pressures on women and girls to send sexual images against their will. Teaching young women how to acquiesce to men and boys’ coercion and sexual demands is not a solution.
While there is a need to have frank and open discussions with young people about sexting, legitimising the practice as a fun, sexy activity does a great disservice to girls, many of whom have openly described their reluctance.
Far from empowering young women, the ‘Art of Safe Sexting’ encourages underage girls to tolerate and embrace requests for sexual images even while teen girls are reporting feeling trapped, stuck, scared, pressured and coerced. Legitimising sexting does not minimise harm, it undermines girls’ ability to say no.
According to a YouGov poll of female tenants commissioned by housing charity Shelter, a quarter of a million women have experienced a landlord asking for sexual favours in exchange for free or discounted rent. UK media outlet The Time reported as follows:
One woman reported “a landlord showing up nightly, sitting in my bedroom and refusing to leave”. Another said she had received a text after viewing a flat saying she “could have it for free if I performed some very explicit sexual acts with him”. A third described how “the landlord made a pass at me while his wife was asleep upstairs”.
The poll follows reports of online classified advertisements offering accommodation in return for sexual favours. Many female tenants said they had been the victim of “sexual harassment” including “uninvited touching (arm around shoulders), creepy behaviour” and the landlord entering their bedrooms while they were naked. One recalled that she had been evicted 13 years ago when she refused her landlord’s demands.
“My landlord asked me for sex when I could not pay in full rent for one month. The following month I still could not afford full payment and I still refused to make love with him so he threw me out.”
A new study out of Northwestern University has revealed teenage girls’ experiences of pressure and coercion from boys to send nude images.
Researchers analysed 500 accounts from teenage girls, finding that two- thirds were asked to send explicit photos, with boys engaging in threats and harassment if they did not comply. In response, 20% of girls gave in.
The adolescent girls shared the immediate and long-term repercussions of saying no to boy’s demands, with boys getting angry and threatening to end their relationships.
Of 500 accounts, only 12 revealed there was no backlash from refusing boy’s requests for nude images. Girls described feeling trapped, stuck or scared of the consequences of both sending and not sending photos. One even reported death threats after saying no. Others found a compromise, sending a picture of their face or a photo they found on the internet.
None of the girls who sent photos reported feeling any relief or benefit, and expressed fear of photos being distributed and lower self-esteem.
“A guy sent a naked picture of me to the whole school including my principal and my parents then everyone who got it sent it to their phonebooks which resulted in about 300 plus people having my naked body on their phone,” one girl said.
From the Daily Mail:
Researchers found that the girls often felt the burden of the situation as their issue and not a problem with the boy.
“Young women’s language suggested that they did not problematize the boys’ coercive and threatening behaviour. Young men were not criticised or denounced for sharing young women’s (presumably) consensually shared bodies without their consent,” Thomas said in the study.
This research is consistent with our experiences meeting with young women in high schools around the country, who describe feeling coerced into sending sexual images and performing unwanted sex acts by their male classmates. An all too common refrain we hear is “How do I say no without hurting his feelings?”
In 2014, Collective Shout co-founder Melinda Tankard Reist recorded messages from teenage girls to be shared with the boys. Several of these messages touched on pressure from boys and the consequences girls faced when they didn’t comply with their wishes:
‘If we reject your request to send a sexual image, please don’t stop talking to us.’
‘If we say no, accept it, don’t try to persuade us.’
‘Respect our boundaries.’
‘Just because we don’t say no doesn’t mean we are saying yes.’
Caitlin Roper, from women’s right’s group Collective Shout, said it’s “heartening to hear that police forces are both acknowledging the magnitude of these sexual crimes and implementing measures to stop them”, but she also pointed out that we must address the root cause of harassment.
“While it’s important women feel safe and supported to report these crimes, we also need to focus our attention on educating men,” she told The Huffington Post UK.
“The most effective way to reduce incidents of men sexually assaulting women is to go to the source and teach men that they are not entitled to the bodies of women and girls.
“While mainstream pornography, media, popular culture and the sex industry all paint a picture of women as existing for men’s use and enjoyment and being ‘up for grabs’ we need to counter these messages and challenge these cultural attitudes that effectively give men permission to objectify and exploit women.”
Current and former employees of Honey Birdette continue to fight back against the company over poor work conditions and sexual harassment.
Honey Birdette have a long history of exploiting women in their advertising. But more recently they have come under fire for a different reason, encouraging the sexual harassment of female employees.Read more