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Revenge porn victims powerless | Local News | #childpredator | #onlinepredator | #sextrafficing


Hundreds of women across Tri­nidad and Tobago remain unpro­tected from the shame and torment of revenge pornography since existing laws fail to criminally penalise abusers who share intimate images of victims and continue to exploit them online, advocates say.

Highly organised predator groups are daily proliferating non-­consensual pornography, sharing by the thousands nude and expli­cit images of mostly young women which were stolen from them or posted without their permission.

Within these groups, multiple victims say abusers plan the trade in images, and the harassment of young women, both auctioning and hunting for the content.

“Who have she?” “Anyone have this girl,” asked group members in multiple screenshots sent to the Sunday Express over the course of the past three months.

Some victims were blackmailed, stalked and threatened by the members of the various Telegram, WhatsApp, MeWe, Discord and Twit­­­ter groups which are still functional, the Sunday Express understands.

The groups are currently at the of a constitutional motion filed by the Humanitarian Founda­tion for Positive Social Change (HFPSC), in an attempt to seek justice for victims of child pornography whose explicit images were shared within their forums.

But they are just as often used to trade or source other heinous content such as sexual abuse videos and thousands of explicit images of young women of various ages, advocates say.

Often suffering psychological and personal challenges as a result, many say they were turned away by police, or told to file civil actions against their abusers.

‘I was like an object’

In April 2020, 24-year-old Reshma* received a disturbing message from an Instagram follower she did not know.

He told her explicit videos of her nude body had been leaked and were being circulated on a large scale online.

The videos, filmed with an ex-­partner depicting the young woman in intimate acts, had been ripped from her Google account by an unknown perpetrator and shared by the hundreds on multiple digital networking platforms.

Members of pornographic groups soon learned her full legal name, provided to them by someone she knew.

The video was shared with a screenshot of her personal social media accounts.

And then the messages came in.

“They asked me what my price is, what I could send to them, what my name is, if I could help them to get off, and asked for details about my body. I got hundreds of messa­ges…I was harassed on both Facebook and Instagram. I am still so very scared whenever I get a message because I don’t know if it will be the same thing,” Reshma told the Sunday Express last week.

Reshma is one of a large number of victims of non-consensual pornography, whose intimate images have been shared, saved and reshared by thousands of online predators in T&T.

Having joined some of these platforms to report the videos, she says she found that the groups were filled with sexual content and frequented by predators who seek to further harass victims.

“They mentioned girls’ names, where they were working, whether they were in UWI. They would say ‘I have her’ and ‘I have this’ and ‘I could get that for you’. They were actively trying to get things from girls,” Reshma said.

“It was scary because people did not care because they were saying the worst things. Some men would go to the ends of the earth to see and share these things, and nobody cared. I was like an object at that point,” she added.

Threatened

For 21-year-old Alison*, her private, intimate images were used to blackmail her into maintaining a sexual relationship with a young man she knew.

The abuser, she said, manipulated her into creating explicit content and later threatened to spread the ima­ges if she stopped “coming back”.

And in July 2021, the images were posted on Telegram, his face obscured, hers on full display.

The personal images went viral, shared to thousands in the weeks following their release.

“He threatened me. He didn’t want me to leave the relationship. The same day, it went viral all over and people contacted me about it. He put it out there on Telegram. I had to seek therapy and it took a toll on me. It was not a nice experience. I had a lot of anxiety attacks because every time I got over it, something new would always happen,” she said.

The young woman, who told the Sunday Express that she had been permanently psychologically scarred by the events, said her job and personal life had been affected in the aftermath.

Battling anxiety, she said she had soon after visited police to seek redress, and was told nothing could be done.

She has since filed a civil claim of defamation against her abuser.

The matter is ongoing.

Manipulated

Sharlene*, who entered a relationship at the age of 21, told the Sunday Express she had been manipulated into creating explicit ima­ges by her 29-year-old partner at the time.

By 2022, she said the relationship had run its course, but the images had been leaked and shared to thousands on various groups, and to popular Facebook and Instagram pages.

The imagery had received such a wide viewership that she was let go from her place of work in the aftermath, she said.

And since then, she has lived in constant depression and fear, she said.

“He might not feel the embarrassment of it, but it is affecting me in every way possible. Since learning about the videos and him sharing it, when I got to know about it, I was devastated, I almost went into a depression. Someone pointed out to me, saying, ‘Look at the girl from the videos’.

“I was basically shut out. I could not eat or function. It messed me up to the point where I said I needed counselling because it affected me mentally. While I was working, the first video came out, and my HR manager saw it and said this is not the kind of thing I want for the company, so they let me go,” she said last week.

The laws

As revenge pornography or non-consensual pornography remains unlegislated, victims and advocates alike told the Sunday Express that attempts to seek aid through law enforcement were futile, several being told by police officers not much could be done.

In August 2021, a report was sent to the Cyber Crime Unit by one victim who found that explicit images of herself had been posted to a pornographic Twitter account.

A police response, which was forwarded to the Sunday Express, conceded the inability of law enforcement to assist as the incident was not covered by the laws of Trinidad and Tobago.

Police advised the young woman to instead pursue a civil action against her abuser.

“If the video or picture of a private nature was something a few persons had access to, then it would mean that it was leaked by someone within the circle of the person who had it. If you are aware of who leaked and posted the video/picture, you reserve the right to (retain) the services of an attorney-at-law and pursue a civil suit against that person and be successful,” the police e-mail says.

Though offences such as harassment, the sharing of unauthorised data and unwelcome intimidatory acts are outlawed in the Computer Misuse Act, the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill (2020) and the Offences Against a Person Act, advocates say the closest the country has come since in legislating against this offence is the Sexual Offences (Amendment) (No 3) Bill, 2021.

Brought to the Senate by then attorney general Faris Al-Rawi in December 2021, the Amendment to the Sexual Offences Act sought to criminalise voyeuristic behaviour and the taking and sharing of intimate images without consent in four new sections, 22 (A-D).

Under Section 22 B, intimate images taken and shared without consent, taken for the purpose of humiliating or creating distress of a person or taken for the purpose of sexual gratification is punishable by a fine of $250,000 and two years’ imprisonment or $750,000 and five years’ imprisonment upon conviction on indictment.



POLICE INFORMED: Justice Frank Seepersad.




During the bill’s second reading in January 2022, Al-Rawi cited the judgment delivered by High Court judge Frank Seepersad in the case of Therese Ho v Lendl Simmons, noting, “A major lacuna in the laws of Trinidad and Tobago as it relates to privacy and the criminalisation of privacy.”

“Are these alien concepts in Trinidad and Tobago? Can we not all speak to seeing ridiculous, terrifying, dangerous assassinations of character on an almost minute-by-minute basis in this country? Where do we draw the line, honourable senators? When do we begin to protect, honourable senators? How do we ensure that our most vulnerable are protected?” said Al-Rawi.

Recommendations

In 2022, the HFPSC submitted a legal recommendation to the Attorney General and to the parliamentary subcommittee on the amendment, which noted a number of flaws within its wording.

These included a failure to criminalise the saving or storing of intimate images to electronic devices, a failure to consider anonymous offenders and incitement, among others.

These considerations, the foundation argued, were essential to addressing the phenomena of the online rings in which these materials were being circulated.

The inclusion of offences for the saving and storing on electronic devices, and incitement, it said, would enable officers to investigate persons who participate in these groups and to note the persuasive elements within these forums to seek out victims’ personal accounts and encourage hacking.

“Online sexual abusers commonly save media (photos and videos) of a person without their consent. It is expected that participants of ‘sex trade’ internet chat rooms would save thousands of intimate photos of women and teenagers across Trinidad and Tobago.

“Including this as an offence would enable officers of the Police Service to investigate and search electronic devices of persons who participate in sex trade online groups and charge them with the offence if found with these images and videos illegally.

“Thousands of women and girls across Trinidad and Tobago, face distress and fear due to incitement to stalk, harass and rape them as a result of how their private information and photos were shared, especially on online ‘sex trade’ group chats dedicated to non-consensually circulating the intimate photos of women and children.

“Women and young girls across Trinidad and Tobago are depending of legislation, such as this, to ensure their everyday safety against such online sexual abusers and our legislation must therefore fully be able to protect them against incitement and sexual harassment,” it states.

The foundation also recommended a provision providing police with investigative powers to identify anonymous perpetrators through the use of supporting legislation such as the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, Chap 11:24—an agreement between Trinidad and Tobago and the United States to provide mutual assistance “in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty, in connection with the investigation, prosecution, and prevention of offences, and in proceedings related to criminal matters”.

An anonymous recommendation collated by legal professionals and submitted to the Attorney General in 2020 was also shared with the Sunday Express. The recommendation notes that given investigatory powers, the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service could initiate formal enquiries to social media companies on which predatory groups are hosted.

“In consideration of the law and procedure outlined, our law enforcement agencies can certainly approach these social media companies for mutual assistance with these criminal activities. With technology, new methods of committing Gender Based Violence crimes against women through computer misuse, is a matter of public policy and an investigation in these crimes should be done to curb its occurrence now and in the near future,” it said.

The recommendation also called for the passing of the Cybercrime Bill (2017), which it said would more clearly outline the investigative powers of the police in these crimes.

“It should therefore be considered one of Parliament’s priorities since if left unregulated, such crimes would exacerbate and can be considered hubs for acquiring targets for serious crimes such as human trafficking,” it said.

As it stands, the Sexual Offences Amendment No 3 has not been passed in Parliament, its last updated status via the official parliamentary website notes that the Senate’s subcommittee report was laid in June 2022.

* The names of all victims were changed to protect their identities.



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