Break-ups can be difficult and often quite painful. But imagine that the person you loved and trusted for the duration of your relationship decided to take revenge on you for breaking it off. What does that look like? Well, there are a variety of ways that a scorned lover might express their resentment, but in today’s era of cyber-everything, revenge porn is becoming a tool of choice for many in their quest for vengeance.

Revenge porn has been defined by the government as “the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress.” Often there will be additional personal information included with the images or videos that are published. This combination can leave a person feeling vulnerable and could possibly put them in danger. At minimum, it is psychologically damaging to the victim.

So why do people do it?

The desire to “get back” at someone who has hurt you is not uncommon. Feeling hurt and betrayed can cause anger and urges to inflict the same type of pain on the person that has caused it. Controlling those urges can be difficult for some and revenge porn can offer what feels like the ultimate ability to hurt and embarrass someone.

Afroditi Pina, a senior lecturer in forensic psychology at Kent University, conducted a study on revenge porn and those who have committed it. She found that there were certain common traits associated with those who engaged in this type of behavior. They often exhibited a general lack of empathy for others and had few concerns about hurtful or questionable behavior in others.

The growing acceptance of porn in general — and the view by many that it is harmless — plays a part in revenge porn and even the opportunity for it to occur in the first place. Viewing porn on a regular basis has an influence on behavior. When it comes to the pain and feelings of betrayal that can be felt during a break-up, the desire to inflict pain on the person causing it by exposing them in an intimate and embarrassing way may seem more acceptable to those who make porn viewing a regular habit.

The acceptance of viewing sexual images, whether you are a man or woman, also makes it more likely that there is material that can be abused in this way. Because of the desensitization that porn causes, many consider things like sexting or videoing intimate moments an appropriate expression of affection or desire. This leads to a lack of understanding and connection to the real pain and damage that the publishing of such private moments can cause. Porn can also contribute to a lessening of empathy for others which could lead someone to see the actions of revenge porn as justified rather than wrong. 

What Can You Do?

There is no easy answer to that. A good start, however, is to do your best to prevent revenge porn from ever being an option. While both men and women can be the victims of revenge porn, it is most often women who are the targets. Making a point to avoid being videoed or photographed in compromising situations would be the wisest choice for many reasons.

That, of course, does not account for those who would record or photograph you without your consent. If you find that intimate images of you have been recorded without your permission there are laws now that can help you. Recently actress Mischa Barton experienced this exact situation. Under California she was able to take action and secure a restraining order against the offender. According to Barton,

This is a painful situation, and my absolute worst fear was realized when I learned that someone I thought I loved and trusted was filming my most intimate and private moments, without my consent, with hidden cameras. Then I learned something even worse: that someone is trying to sell these vides and make them public. I came forward to fight this not only for myself but for all the women out there.”

If you feel you have been the victim of revenge porn you should investigate your state’s laws regarding the procedures and penalties for punishing such behavior. Generally speaking, it is considered illegal and is punishable by law.

Porn viewing in general is bad for you, but revenge porn is especially damaging. The impact of being betrayed this way by someone you once loved and trusted can cause issues in all relationships going forward. Not only is there pain and embarrassment, but also the distrust and self-doubt it leaves behind. Understand that if you have suffered this kind of betrayal it is not your fault. And that you have options.