A local NGO has launched a service to help people remove intimate images of themselves that have been shared online without their consent. The group has also called on the government to enforce harsher laws to help victims who fall prey to “revenge porn.”

The Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women announced their new “Take-Down Assistance” service on International Women’s Day on Monday. ”We wish to promote awareness on the intersecting existence of violence against women in the physical world as well as online space,” the association’s Executive Director Linda Wong said.

File Photo: Alex Green via Pexels.

“Harassment, discrimination, threats, image-based sexual abuse… are all behaviours that make the internet very far from being a safe space for women,” she added.

The new service has been launched in response to an uptick of “image-based sexual abuse” and a failure of existing regulations to help victims, the association said.

The NGO encountered 133 cases of such abuse last year, more than three times the 44 cases reported in 2019.

“Some cases involve ex-partners, but we have also seen some cases of images that have been taken without consent and distributed online a long time ago which have been discovered by partners and redistributed in order to expose them,” an association spokesperson told HKFP. “We have also had cases of images being shared that were taken during very short-term flings without permission.”

Executive Director Linda Wong. Photo: Rainlily.

The spokesperson added some cases were complicated further by the fact that the images were not taken in Hong Kong’s jurisdiction.

“Victim-survivors described reporting to police as unhelpful under current legislation, and many wish the image shared without their consent to be taken down from the internet but have found contacting these platforms very difficult,” an association statement read.

Although the majority of Rainlily’s services caters to women, its new service looks to assist people of all genders in filing complaints to the police: “We also hope that this all-gender-friendly service can reduce re-traumatisation in the process for survivors by making the contact on their behalf.” the executive director, Wong, said. Other counselling, medical and legal support services will also be available for female victims through the NGO’s existing services.

‘Criminalise threats’

The service will also provide support for victims who are threatened with the public release of intimate pictures without their consent.

“Non-consensual recording, non-consensual  distribution, and threatening to distribute are within the continuum of image-based sexual abuse. These types of behaviour violate the survivor’s rights to sexual autonomy, and are often perpetrated continuously against the survivors to intimidate, dominate, and harass,” said Advocacy Officer Jacey Kan.

Photo: Adam Fagen via Flickr.

“Although the images have not been shared at this stage, these survivors have already been through severe  distress,” Kan added, saying perpetrators may torment their victims for an extended period of time before distributing the compromising images online.

The Security Bureau proposed making “non-consensual photography of intimate parts irrespective of the purpose” a standalone offence after a three-month public consultation at the end of last year.

The association, however, said the proposal does not go far enough in providing sufficient support to victims.

File Photo: CMY Kane, via Flickr.

In a submission to LegCo, it called on the government to criminalise threats to distribute intimate images without consent, saying existing laws against blackmail have proven to be ineffective: “Cases received at the association, along with many other survivors, shared that the current legal response is clearly ineffective in safeguarding victim-survivors, and often results in more trauma,” the submission said.

One such victim said a failure on authorities to act on texts from a former boyfriend threatening to leak intimate images of her pushed her to contemplate suicide.

“I expected making a report could help stop this kind of threat, but not only couldn’t it, it also sent my ex-boyfriend a signal that what he did is allowed by the law,” said the victim, who wished to remain anonymous.

“I have become very unwilling to meet people following the incident, because I wouldn’t know if these images are uploaded and viewed online. I feel like people would stare at me because of these images when I am in public,” she continued. “The scariest part is knowing that I might have to live with this fear for the rest of my life, I have thought of ending my life so the incident can be over.”

Photo: Rainlilly website.

The association said Hong Kong authorities should learn from regulations in Scotland and Singapore, where threatening to distribute intimate images without consent has been criminalised within the past three years.

“The Association urges the Security Bureau to take reference from these legislative models highlighted above to expand its proposal and provide holistic protection for victim-survivors of image-based sexual abuse,” a statement read.

“We hope they will enforce harsher legal measures to provide better support for victims,” the spokesperson told HKFP.

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.