Singapore

Speaking up about her stolen photos

Her photos were edited and uploaded to a porn blog; now Gia Lim is sharing her experience of dealing with the fallout

Three years ago, Gia Lim was in the middle of her O levels when she discovered edited photos of herself on a Tumblr blog with pornographic content.

In the photos, she was wearing a T-shirt and shorts but her chest had been digitally enlarged to a grotesque size, and the photos were accompanied by a lewd caption.

At the same time, she started receiving "friend" requests from strangers, and unsolicited sexual messages and images on her social media platforms.

One day, she noticed a man following her home after tuition class. She got her father to pick her up and made a police report afterwards.

Miss Lim, now 20, later discovered her former best friend had e-mailed her full name, photos, address, and the names of the school and tuition centre she attended to over 60 porn blogs.

She confronted him, made him issue a public apology, and blocked him on all her social media accounts.

But she continued to struggle with insecurity, self-blame, and paranoia years after the incident. She cut off friends due to trust issues, and could not even bear to go outside alone.

Three weeks ago, she made a video to talk about her experiences and shared it on Instagram and YouTube. It has been viewed more than 8,500 times.

Miss Lim told The New Paper that sharing the video was "empowering".

"If you fall silent, and you don't talk about it, nobody will understand how you feel," she said.

"I reached an audience that I had not imagined reaching. Many women have been telling me their stories since I uploaded the video."

Miss Lim is one of many young women whose photos have been shared online without their consent.

On Friday, TNP reported that a blog featuring photos of polytechnic students had resurfaced on micro-blogging platform Tumblr after being taken down last year.

A search on the seedier side of Tumblr yielded dozens of websites circulating innocuous images of young women accompanied by lewd captions.

These photos appear to have been taken off their social media accounts without knowledge or consent.

An even more pernicious aspect is revenge pornography, where intimate images and videos are distributed non-consensually to online forums by an ex-partner (see report below).

Criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam said that cases involving non-consensual use of sexual images and videos online have been on the rise.

He said: "This is due to the rapid growth of information technology and the popularity of social media platforms."

Findings from a study published by the Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC) - run by Aware - last year showed that about 10 per cent of their 300 plus cases in 2016 involved image-based sexual abuse or harassment.

This includes taking and distributing images without consent. The centre also dealt with a case of "sexualised photoshopping", in which the client's face was photoshopped onto another woman's body, causing embarrassment and distress.

Among the dozen or so young women who came forward to share their experiences with Miss Lim is Clara (not her real name), 19.

When she was 14, a friend told her that a photo of her at the beach in a school T-shirt and shorts had been posted on a Tumblr blog, accompanied by a fake erotic story about her.

The photo was taken from her Facebook page, which had been open only to friends. The Tumblr post received more than 20,000 reblogs.

Said Clara: "Someone concocted a story about me peeking into the male toilet. None of it was true. But people viewing it do not know that it is not true, and judgments about me would be formed from that post."

She made a police report, but little could be done as Tumblr is based in the United States.

She added: "Nothing could be done. And the nature of Tumblr is that things just get reblogged everywhere. Thousands of people have already seen it, and it just stays on the Internet permanently."

Lawyer Suang Wijaya, an associate from Eugene Thuraisingam LLP said: "Under Singapore law, one generally does not have the power to restrict or control the republication or use of one's photographs which have already been published.

"Parliament may consider enacting legislation to better protect image rights, to increase the types of situations in which the subject of a photograph which has already been published may sue for inappropriate use or re-publication of that photograph of him or her.

"However, care should be taken in the drafting of such legislation, so as not to outlaw socially acceptable use or re-publication of photographs."

SACC manager Anisha Joseph agreed that current laws may be insufficient in protecting people who are being subjected to sexual abuse online.

"The law should effectively safeguard rights in online spaces as well as offline ones. We hope authorities will consider stronger and quicker remedies, especially given the time-sensitive nature of some cyber sexual crimes."

Ms Joseph added that victims can reach out to SACC for emotional support through counselling and support groups, and to understand what options are available. These include taking snapshots to gather evidence, making a police report and/or a magistrate's complaint, or applying for court orders under the Protection from Harassment Act that require the harasser to stop the harassment, for instance by taking down what has been posted online.

TNP understands that one way to remove photos from Tumblr is by submitting a copyright claim to Tumblr, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a US copyright law.

Miss Lim had to repeatedly contact individual blog owners to get her photos taken down.

She is glad to have started a conversation on the topic.

She said: "My friend told me that when he was chatting with friends in the army, someone mentioned my video, which led to a discussion on how they should be more respectful to their female friends.

"When you have enough people speaking up, change can be enacted."

How other countries deal with image-based sexual abuse

With the pervasiveness of the Internet and technology, the problem of image-based sexual abuse is occurring worldwide. This is how other countries are dealing with the problem:

AUSTRALIA

Last year, its government introduced new laws through the Enhancing Online Safety (Non-consensual Sharing of Intimate Images) Bill 2017 to prevent the sharing of intimate images online without consent.

The new measures allowed the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to remove offending images published online and take action to prevent further sharing.

Penalties will also be imposed on perpetrators and content hosts who share the offending images. The penalties go up to A$105,000 (S$107,000) for individuals and up to A$525,000 for corporations.

A national portal for reporting non-consensual sharing of intimate images will be launched this year.

SCOTLAND

In response to the rise of revenge porn, the Scottish parliament enacted the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Act which came into force in 2017.

Under the act, it is an offence to disclose, or threaten to disclose intimate images or video without consent.

Those convicted face up to five years in prison.

DENMARK

In March, a woman's rights organisation called The Danish Women's Society partnered with pornography hosting site YouPorn to launch the #AskFirst campaign to highlight the implications of revenge porn.

The #AskFirst campaign features an educational channel on YouPorn, and the launch of a content removal page where victims can flag offending content on YouPorn for swift removal.

- ANG TIAN TIAN

THE LONG READ