You end things with your ex on friendly terms, or so you think, but when you get home, you discover the scandalous sex tape you both made on vacation has been leaked online. The scenario is common; by now, millions of people are victims of online harassment and sexual assault perpetrated by an ex who is using sex tapes or naked photos in what's known as "revenge porn." 

Now, researchers at the University of Kent in England have identified the most common psychological traits of a revenge porn perpetrator, and public attitudes on the misdemeanor.

The study, published in International Journal of Technoethics, defines revenge porn as "the act of sharing intimate, sexually graphic images and/or videos of another person onto public online platforms, such as Facebook."

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The researchers found when it came to public attitudes about revenge porn, 99 percent of people expressed at least some approval of nonconsensual porn being posted online when presented with a scenario where a partner walks out on them. However, only 29 percent of the participants reported a likelihood of engaging in this type of online domestic abuse. More shockingly, 87 percent of participants showed some excitement or amusement with the concept of blackmailing an ex.

This sentiment was shared among both men and women, who are equally vulnerable to domestic abuse online. Previous research shows both genders have been victims of a perpetrator verbally expressing physical threats, monitoring victims' online activities, stalking them, or threatening to post nude or almost-nude photos online. A total of 12 percent of male and female participants said they were victims of digital domestic abuse, highlighting the similar rates of victimhood between men and women.

Lead researcher Dr. Afroditi Pina from the University's School of Psychology and her colleagues suggest revenge porn perpetrators have a distinct personality profile that makes them more likely to commit the heinous crime. The research team found a positive correlation between the greater likelihood to engage in revenge porn and displaying higher levels of the "Dark Triad" psychological characteristics. The "Dark Triad" focuses on three personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy; "dark" eludes to the person possessing these traits as having malevolent qualities. Impulsivity and lack of empathy were the most strongly tied to the likelihood someone would commit the crime. 

People with these personality traits are also more likely to want to stay friends after a breakup, but for personal gain. Specifically, those who scored high for narcissism were more likely to choose "practicality and the chance of hooking up" as reasons for prolonging a former romantic relationship. Unsurprisingly, these people have trouble letting go, and seek revenge to further exert their power and control over their victims.

Pina's study offers insight into the psychological profile of a perpetrator, but also brings to the surface an alarming thought: there's a big acceptance of revenge porn among people. Although most would be unlikely to commit the crime themselves, this may have significant implications, "especially if one considers the facilitating role of online bystanders in the rapid dissemination of revenge porn materials," wrote the researchers.

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The rise of revenge porn has been facilitated by the birth of the digital age, especially with cellphone technology, and the expansion of social media. There's an estimated 2,000 revenge porn web sites worldwide, where countless people are repeatedly victimized through the availability of their most personal images on these public sites. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which allows victims of revenge porn to file a report for copyright infringement on images of them reposted without permission, helps provide support.

A 2015 Cyber Civil Rights Initiative survey found out of more than 1,600 respondents between the ages of 18 and 30, 61 percent had taken nude photos or videos of themselves and shared them with someone, and 23 percent of respondents were victims of revenge porn. Among these victims, 93 percent reported significant emotional distress; 82 percent reported suffering significant social, occupational, and other types of functional impairment; and over half indicated they considered committing suicide.

In the U.S., 34 states and Washington DC have laws that apply specifically to revenge porn, according to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

Educating people on the detrimental effects of revenge porn may help potential perps, and bystanders, realize how devastating this crime can be. 

Source: Pina A, Holland J, and James M. The Malevolent Side of Revenge Porn Proclivity: Dark Personality Traits and Sexist Ideology. ITJ. 2017.

See Also:

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Porn Addiction: True Dependence Or Another Type Of Problem Entirely?