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12° Nicosia,
26 May, 2024
 
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The devastating impact of revenge pornography

The phenomenon is a growing concern in Cyprus and internationally

Ioanna Kyriakou

Twelve women in Cyprus recently fell victim to revenge pornography, where a 40-year-old man from Larnaca posted explicit videos and photos of them on erotic websites. The disturbing case came to light over the weekend, reigniting concerns about revenge pornography and prompting questions about the legislative protections and actions taken by authorities to safeguard the victims. In early July, AKEL MP George Koukumas proposed a new law before the Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee to address revenge pornography and close existing legal loopholes in handling such complaints. The proposal received general approval from all parties involved, including relevant ministries, organizations, and agencies. Feedback and suggestions for improvements are anticipated, and AKEL aims to finalize and enhance the text in the coming period. The proposal is expected to be presented for a vote in the autumn during the plenary session.

Complaints from both his current and ex-wives, along with 10 other women

The case stands out as the complaints against the suspect came from both his former and current wives, along with ten other women from his social circle. The police swiftly initiated an investigation when the first complaint was made on June 28. Subsequently, more complaints with similar accusations were filed by ten other women. The 40-year-old man was arrested following witness testimonies, and on July 29, he appeared before the Larnaca District Court, which ordered his detention for eight days. As per the information available, the suspect allegedly uploaded intimate content involving his ex and current spouse on a pornographic website. Furthermore, he supposedly placed images of the heads of ten other women onto nude bodies and posted them on a pornographic website. The suspect is now being investigated for offenses related to the dissemination of explicit material, as well as offenses pertaining to legislation against violence against women and domestic violence, data protection laws, and character protection.

65 incidents in the last 5 years

Revenge pornography is a growing concern in Cyprus and internationally, exemplified by the recent Telegram scandal where thousands of illicit photos and videos of women were discovered circulating in groups. According to police data presented to the Legal Affairs Committee by the Justice Minister earlier this month, there have been 65 reported cases of revenge pornography in Cyprus over the past five years. Among these cases, 17, or approximately 1 in 5, involved male victims. Safer Internet Centre reported 338 complaints in 2021, highlighting incidents where individuals sent personal photos and subsequently received threats, particularly of a financial nature. Perpetrators would threaten to publish the photos unless they received money.

The loopholes and what is changing

New legislation addressing revenge pornography has been proposed to address existing loopholes and strengthen penalties in Cyprus. The current legislation, incorporated into the 2021 legislation on violence against women, carries a severe penalty of up to 14 years in prison for offenders.

The proposed law aims to rectify three key issues:

1. Material Removal Obligation: Presently, the removal of revenge porn material from online platforms is voluntary, leaving victims vulnerable. The new law will impose a legal obligation on internet and online service providers, as well as digital service providers, to remove such material within one hour of being notified by the police or competent authorities. Courts will also have the power to order removal or blocking.

2. Gender-Neutral Protection: The current article solely safeguards female victims, omitting cases involving male victims or gay male victims, along with instances of financial blackmail and publication for "revenge" purposes. The new legislation seeks to protect all individuals who fall victim to such acts.

3. Elimination of Offender Excuses: The existing legislation requires proving the offender's intent to intimidate, humiliate, harass, cause emotional disturbance, or achieve unlawful financial gain from the victim. Perpetrators often use excuses like "I did it for fun" or "I was hurt" to evade conviction. The proposed law will hold offenders accountable regardless of their expressed excuses.

The proposed law also introduces aggravating factors for sentencing when the offense is committed by a former or current spouse or partner, in the presence of a child, serially, resulting in the victim's suicide or death, or when the offender has a prior conviction for a similar offense. The definition of erotic/sexual material expands to include manipulated material referencing a specific person. Lastly, the terms "pornography" and "revenge pornography" are replaced with "non-consensual sharing of personal images" to avoid implying victim wrongdoing and to highlight the lack of consent in such crimes.

What is revenge pornography?

The term "revenge pornography" encompasses situations where erotic or sexual content featuring individuals is published or threatened to be published without their consent. The material may have been originally captured with the victim's consent or obtained without their knowledge. Such actions cause profound humiliation, shaming, harassment, and psychological distress to those depicted in the images or videos. As a result, victims experience severe psychological consequences, leading to social isolation, strained relationships with family and relatives, and, in some cases, even suicidal thoughts among victims and their parents. Additionally, many victims endure negative professional and economic repercussions, often leading them to quit their jobs or struggle to maintain their careers and social life.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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