2020 changed the landscape for everyone and the Revenge Porn Helpline has been no exception. Within weeks of the first lockdown, domestic abuse services across the country (and the world) were seeing a huge spike in cases; for us, April 2020 saw a doubling in case numbers. And it’s a trend that didn’t, and hasn’t, stopped.
In 2019, the Revenge Porn Helpline supported 1,681 people, but in 2020 this rose to a staggering 3,146, an 87 % increase. These are people whose private sexual images have been shared without their permission, people being extorted with their pictures for money, and people being coerced with threats to share into lives lived in fear.
People isolated at home, their whole lives shifted online, were vulnerable to approaches that turned out not to be what they seemed. Women suffering abuse found themselves cut off from support, the intensity of the abuse rising in the lockdown pressure cooker.
Most of these people were women, almost 60%, but it was predominantly men (75%) that were targeted by overseas crime gangs, a practice known as sextortion that also increased by 160% in 2020. Women also had more images shared than men, averaging over 72 images per person, compared to men at fewer than 2.
The Helpline consists of a tiny team: at the beginning of lockdown there were three of us, but two of us were part-time. We are grateful for some additional funding from our funder, the Home Office as part of their Covid support, which enabled us to recruit an additional practitioner so that we almost equal four full-time staff now.
But we need more, because there is so much more to do. We need the funding and resources for a sustainable future. There are more and more people needing our help, and they have more and more content that needs to be removed that has spread further and further. We need to work with our industry partners to find better ways to report and remove content quickly. And most importantly of all, we need to work with government and support services right across the sector to make meaningful change. So that people understand and respect consent so that no-one’s private images are shared in this way and we can pack up and go home.