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How to help when someone uses intimate photos as revenge

Anisha Vora thought her ex-boyfriend was someone she could trust. 

The couple had known each other for a decade prior to breaking up in 2012. Then, without warning or explanation, Vora's ex posted nude images she'd shared privately with him online, along with her contact information.

The images eventually appeared on 3,000 websites. Strangers showed up at Vora's door and someone, perhaps a friend, anonymously emailed her with details about where the pictures were posted. 

Scared and angry, Vora took her case to the police, who arrested her ex for invasion of privacy. He served three months in jail in 2014. 

Vora, 26, has since dedicated her life to helping victims of nonconsensual porn. She has served as a volunteer assistant director of victim support at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a nonprofit organization that fights online abuse. At the organization, she connects people to legal and practical resources so they can remove images of themselves from the internet — a complicated, expensive and emotional process.

Bystanders may think there's no way to help a victim of nonconsensual porn, but Vora says they can actually play an important role in the process. 

Whether a friend has forwarded a sext to several people, or someone has posted nonconsensual porn to social media to bully the victim, or a bystander sees explicit images of a stranger online, such as in the comments section of a website, there are ways people can intervene to stop the cycle of victimization.

If someone forwards you an explicit image of someone, try to avoid judging the person who appears in the photograph. Like Vora, she or he may have trusted the intended recipient of the image, never imagining that it would rapidly spread through school or a social network. 

"Many people victim blame," says Vora. "I don’t think I did anything wrong. He betrayed [my] trust, and that’s on him." 

Instead, you can reach out to the victim and let them know what's happened in a non-judgmental way. 

If you've seen nonconsensual porn and want to discuss it with friends, it is completely unnecessary to forward or share the image. 

"You’re just making it’re making the victim relive what they just went through," says Vora. 

If you're trying to warn friends about the perpetrator, you can describe what happened by simply saying that an explicit image was shared without someone's consent. If you try to alert the victim, only send him or her the photo if they request to view it. 

If you are using a website or social media platform that should not contain explicit material and you are sent or come across questionable content, report the image to the provider immediately. Major social media networks have guidelines for how to report an abusive photo (click the links to see recommendations for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr and Twitter). 

Since explicit images can spread quickly, reporting them can aid the victim, who may ultimately have to track down and try to remove all links to a photo. 

"Time is so valuable when you’re in that situation," says Vora. 

If nonconsensual porn is being used to embarrass or bully the victim, it's important to tell an adult in a position of authority, like a school counselor or principal. The goal is to make adults aware that someone is being victimized; the responsibility for stopping the behavior and punishing the perpetrator is the adult's. 

It's important, however, to ask the victim first for permission to report the incident, particularly if you think involving authority figures will expose them to victim-blaming or unfair consequences. 

Distributing nonconsensual porn is illegal in many states, especially if it involves a minor. If you receive or see explicit images in a group text or message, for example, you might not be witness to just bullying, but also a crime. 

Reporting nonconsensual porn to the police may also be important if the victim appears to be in danger, either because the embarrassment has put him or her at risk for self-harm or because the victim is being threatened or intimidated. 

"If it seems to be getting out of control, or a counselor or parent or friend can’t help you," says Vora, "then the police is the best place to go before it blows up into something you’re not going to be able to fix." 

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