Hidden epidemic: Victims’ advocate warns ‘revenge porn’ starts in high school

Positive Parenting

About a year ago, a local woman got a message that changed her life. It said her intimate photos were posted online.

Katelyn Bowden would later learn that someone stole her ex-boyfriend’s phone and posted those private images on the internet.

Now she’s turning her shame and anger into action to put a name and face to victims of revenge porn.

According to a study published by the Data and Society Research Institute, roughly 10 million Americans are either threatened with or victims of nonconsensual image sharing — or “revenge porn,” as it’s more commonly known.

Those numbers were found as part of a larger study, which showed that 47 percent of Americans were victims of online harassment.

Revenge porn has become such an epidemic, that it’s one of the things the Attorney General’s Crimes Against Children Unit specializes in investigating.

In a time when snapping and sharing photos and videos is as simple as a few taps on a phone screen, some private images can find their way to the internet. Katelyn never dreamed her private photos could end up online.

“I got them down but a few months later, I realized they were reposted again and again, and I started seeing more people that I knew on these threads,” she said.

Sometimes these private photos and videos are posted by a scorned lover. Other times, like in the cases of celebrities, the victims’ accounts are hacked into and they don’t even know the person who’s responsible.

This type of harassment shows how sexual violation can now be digital, as well as physical. That’s why Katelyn decided to launch the group Battling Against Demeaning and Abusive Selfie Sharing.

“We’re trying to attack this from all sides,” she said.

Including legislation and education.

“Just bringing awareness to this because most people don’t realize just how huge this is,” Katelyn said.

In the Valley alone, this group works with about 200 victims.

“We’ve noticed that out in Columbiana County, it’s a huge problem,” Katelyn said. “Beaver Local Schools — we’ve seen threads dedicated just to the high school girls.”

Helping those victims is the main reason why advocates like Katelyn are trying to change the laws on revenge porn, both in Ohio and Washington. Many of the laws on the books were made before internet access was in the palm of our hands and evidence lived on servers in the Cloud.

House Bill 497 would criminalize image abuse in Ohio.

“A misdemeanor for the first offense and…a sliding scale so the third offense would be a felony,” Katelyn said.

The number of states with a law addressing revenge porn has jumped from three to 38 since 2013, but there are obstacles at every corner — from the longevity of the internet, to the attitude of law enforcement and very real concerns over laws that could restrict free speech.

Katelyn and nine other women testified in front of the Ohio House last month, advocating for the bill’s passage.

“I really think we made a big difference,” she said. “I fully expect this bill to go through legislation pretty quickly.”

In the meantime, other victims who have sought this group’s help are still waiting for justice.

Kelsey Jarvis said passing the bill is definitely something that needs to be done.

“I trusted the person at the time, but it definitely wasn’t a good choice,” she said. “It’s embarrassing when you get put out on the spot like that. My family has seen these images, my little brother.”

It’s that anger and passion that have linked Kelsey, Katelyn and thousands of others to put an end to this hidden epidemic.

“I feel like justice needs to be served. My opinion,” Kelsey said.

Over the last year since Katelyn’s group was formed, it’s expanded to over a thousand members around the world and has aided in the arrests of three men from Beaver Township in March.

This group isn’t just working on laws to toughen Ohio’s prosecution of revenge porn and illegal image abuse. It’s also in the early stages of developing a program to implement in schools across the Valley that would reinforce the conversation around consent in a relationship, setting boundaries, respect and how to have those conversations with your significant other in the event of a break-up.

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