Stop Calling it Revenge Porn. It’s Abuse.

‘Revenge porn’ describes the action of one individual sharing another’s private or intimate photos or videos publicly without first obtaining their consent.

The term came into prominence in the UK around 2014/15. Activists such as Charlotte Laws started to lobby for appropriate ‘revenge porn’ laws to be put in place.

‘Revenge porn’ is outdated

While this advocacy started as recently as 5 years ago, the term ‘revenge porn’ has already become outdated. It implicitly suggests two things, both of which are false. Firstly, the word ‘revenge’ suggests that the target of the crime has done something wrong and is therefore deserving of some form of retaliation. Secondly, the word ‘porn’ has consent inherent within it. Pornography is, and should only be, created by consenting adults.

‘Revenge porn’ is a crime

Activists, campaigners and researchers in the field say the correct term should be ‘image-based sexual abuse’. We need an all-encompassing term that removes all blame from the target of the abuse and highlights the devastating, abusive nature of the crime.

The term ‘revenge porn’ first appeared in UK legislation in 2015. An amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 made it a crime to distribute a private sexual image of someone without their consent and with the intention of causing them distress.

The law is not fit for purpose

Unfortunately, the law as it stands misses the mark. Instead, we need to start using the term ‘image-based sexual abuse’. This would reframe the issue as a crime that does not blame the survivor.

The treatment of perpetrators needs to be updated as well. Currently, the law mandates that perpetrators who have been found guilty can be punished with up to two years in prison. But, under the same law, it’s difficult to prove the perpetrator is guilty without causing further distress to the survivor.

For one, survivors are currently not granted any anonymity. In their attempts to keep their private videos and images out of the spotlight, survivors currently have no choice but to consent to their case being made public. A simple change in the law granting survivors anonymity could be invaluable in encouraging them to come forward and seek justice.

What can I do if this happens to me?

If you’ve had your private photos or images shared without your consent, you might find it helpful to speak to the Revenge Porn Helpline. They are set up to support survivors, and can help to have photos or videos taken down from sites like Facebook.

It’s also possible to ask Google to remove images from search results. You might also want to contact the police or seek legal advice or counselling. You can specify whether you’d like to be seen by a male or female police officer, lawyer or counsellor, who can advise you on next steps.

Whatever you decide to do, know that the fault lies solely with the perpetrator. The crime has been committed by the individual who wilfully shared your images or videos without your consent.

All Teachers Need Mandatory Training on FGM

Written by Katrina Lambert (18) and Caitlin Moore (18) – Youth For Change UK members

Ever felt like decision makers aren’t listening to young people? That our voices are ignored and belittled in society? We certainly do sometimes. And we’ve decided to make some noise about it.

We are members of Youth for Change, a global network of youth activists who aim to tackle gender-based violence.

The best way to create positive change is through young people working together to make a difference. We are the ones affected – we should be the ones influencing policy.

Over the last few years we have been tackling the issue of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM is a form of violence against girls. It can result in a lifetime of pain, psychological problems and difficulty in childbirth.

Around 125 million girls have been cut worldwide. An estimated 137,000 girls and women live with FGM in the UK.

In 2017, our research found that 90% of young people surveyed said that learning about FGM as part of Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) would help to protect and empower them and their peers. This was the focus of our campaign to get FGM in the RSE curriculum.

Therefore, we were incredibly excited when it was announced that Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) would be compulsory in every school in England as of 2020. Education plays an absolutely crucial role in young people’s lives (as two school students, we can verify this 100%).

Having FGM taught in schools is our chance to take a step forward in ending this harmful practice.

At Youth for Change, when the Department for Education released the online curriculum consultations, we engaged with our networks and communities to strengthen the voice advocating for FGM to be included.

We fed this back to the Department for Education when a group of us met with senior civil servants last year. We also met with Carolyn Harris MP, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, to discuss the importance of empowering young people through educating them on FGM.

As a result, questions about FGM being a priority area of the new curriculum were raised in Parliamentary Questions, to the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd MP.

In February 2019, it was celebrations all round. We heard that FGM was to be included as a topic in the curriculum. However, as tempting as it may be, we can’t stop now and pat ourselves on the back.

Yes, we have taken a monumental step in the direction towards eradicating FGM. However, in order to ensure that the new curriculum can appropriately educate and empower young people on the issue, teachers must feel equipped.

This is why Youth for Change is calling for mandatory training for all teachers on FGM.

Our research shows that 94% of young people feel school staff don’t know enough about FGM. If there is any chance of the the new curriculum guidance achieving its fullest positive impact, teachers must be trained.

When students are aware of the issue and feel confident that their teachers understand it, then they will naturally feel more protected and comfortable in opening up conversations. This is essential in increasing reporting and saving the lives of thousands of young women and girls across the UK.

Mandatory training for teachers will ensure that every pupil in the UK gets equal access to the FGM education they deserve, regardless of what part of the country they happen to be educated in.

The benefits of training teachers in FGM are not limited to students. It will also empower teachers to feel equipped to take on their role.

In fully understanding their legal responsibilities, including mandatory reporting, teachers will able to confidently safeguard their students and signpost the correct support. Training is absolutely essential. Without it, the huge changes to the curriculum will not be able to support and educate young people.

What can you do?

Get involved with us as we continue to press for standardised, mandatory training for teachers on FGM! Find us on twitter @YouthForChange. And while you’re here, support all of the other amazing activists in our network, such as IKWRO, who are calling for FGM to be tackled earlier on in education.

We’re not going to stop making noise. We need to ensure that the education young people receive reflects what they want and need to learn. We very much hope that the Government will listen to our calls to introduce mandatory training. Together, we can move even closer to eradicating FGM in the UK once and for all.

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Breaking the Silence on Vulval Pain

“Well, you need to have sex, if you don’t it will only make things worse,” the gynaecologist told me.

At the time, I was a single woman at the age of 24. For lots of people, being told to have sex wouldn’t be much of an issue, but when you experience pain during sex like I do, those are hardly the words of comfort you want to hear.

Since the age of 18, sex has been a problem for me.

As a young girl, sex education didn’t teach me which feelings are normal and which aren’t, and I never learnt anything about issues or difficulties I might face in the future.

As a result, for years I thought painful was how sex was supposed to feel.

Other women must experience this pain and just get on with it, right?

But from the way everyone else spoke about sex, I felt confused. It didn’t match up with my own experience. I felt lonely, isolated and upset, so I turned to a doctor for help.

I visited my university doctor 12 times over the 4 years I was studying.

“Maybe it’s this…”
“Maybe it’s that…” 
“Can you test me for this..?”
“Can you do a swab for that..?”

I went back time and time again with my own internet-researched-suggestions of what might be causing the pain I was experiencing and what the solution could be. During each appointment I was examined, assured that physically I was fine, and told it’s all in your head”.

Being told a problem is ‘in your head’ is never easy to hear. At the time, I understood it to mean that there was no solution available to me and I would need to work this one out on my own. Did I need to be more relaxed? Was I too tense?

I was young and clueless and I had no guidance whatsoever.

It wasn’t until I eventually opened up to my mum that I realised I wasn’t being proactive enough. Yes, I was doing all of the research I could do on my own but I didn’t really know what I was looking for. I didn’t even know at this point that I could request a referral to a gynaecologist myself.

Years passed by, and I visited the hospital every 4 months in the hopes my next NHS appointment would shed some light on what was happening to me, but the process moved slowly. Each scan ruled out another potential cause of my symptoms, which I knew was a positive thing – but with each month that passed, the experience began to take its toll on my mental wellbeing.

I started to fill the gaps between these appointments any alternative method I could think of – Acupuncture, Hypnotherapy, Psychosexual Counselling… Each new option gave me a glimmer of hope, but time and time again I had no luck.

I felt let down by my doctors. I felt as though no one was taking me seriously.

I’ve cried in medical appointments more times than I’d care to admit and each referral to a different department left me feeling abandoned – as though no one was willing to take the time to learn about the pain I’d been experiencing for years.

I was the one coming up with potential solutions and offering ideas to my doctors, but every suggestion I made was cast aside. I even had one Gynaecologist laugh and shrug while casually asking me, oh, what are we going to do with you?!, trivialising what I was going through even further.

According to the NHS, vulval pain affects women of all ages, although symptoms often begin before the age of 25. A study on almost 5000 women in America showed 1 in 6 women experienced the symptoms of vulval pain for 3 months or longer, with 60% of women visiting more than 3 doctors, many of whom provided no diagnosis.

How is it that so many women are experiencing the same problem, yet so much of the medical world is completely oblivious to our pain?

Instead of being supported, we’re being made to feel like we’re ‘crazy’. I believed something was really wrong with me until one day, I found an online forum that changed everything.

All of a sudden, I found a group of women from all around the world providing support and advice for each other. It was unlike anything I’d experienced anywhere else. It was the conversations I had in the forum that led me to find a doctor in the UK who sounded as though she had not only heard of, but actually treated, many people in my position.

After all that time, all it took was a 15 minute appointment to lead to the diagnosis I’d been searching for. It may have taken me 8 years to get here, but I can finally say it;

I have Vestibulodynia.

Lessons from the UK’s First Period Conference

Last week, Justine Greening MP, the UK’s Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities, stated that period poverty was the responsibility of schools and parents. As a period poverty activist I was infuriated by this statement and the lack of knowledge which underpinned it.

So, when I attended the UK’s first period conference two days later, I thought it would be a great idea to share my learning with Justine Greening. Below are a list of the key takeaways from the conference so everyone, including the UK Minister for Women and Equalities, can understand how we can improve the lives of those who menstruate:

1. Period poverty is a reality

The conference brought together organisations from all over the UK to share their experiences of period poverty and period taboos, and to develop a manifesto to tackle these issues.

I met with organisations from a number of sectors, and almost every part of the UK. Their experiences of working to alleviate period poverty are enough evidence that it exists.

During the conference, Hannah from Period Potential shared her experience of period poverty. She told her heartbreaking story of growing up without lack of access to products. She said that sometimes she “would save money for sanitary products instead of eating”.

Hannah’s story is not unique. According to Precious Stars 57% of people have used toilet roll or something else to absorb their blood whilst on their period. And, Plan UK’s research showed that 16% of girls’ families in their survey struggled to afford sanitary items.

2. Period poverty is about more than unaffordable products

If we are going to tackle period poverty we need to tackle the bigger picture. Period poverty isn’t just about being unable to afford products, it’s also a deep rooted societal issue. It’s the ingrained taboos and stigma which stop people from asking for help.

We need to create an honest and open culture around menstruation, so that people feel comfortable to speak out about their experiences. In doing so we need to be explicit in our conversations about periods and not be ashamed by our natural bodily process.

Photo by Terri Harris

3. We need to reform the UK education system

We need to completely reform the way we teach sexual education in UK schools because the current curriculum reinforces menstrual taboos and stigma.

Boys and girls are separated from the moment they begin sex education. This needs to change. Menstruation is a bodily process that both sexes need to understand in order to eradicate the idea that periods are unclean.

Period product brands play too large a role in the education system. Pupils are being advertised to rather than educated. These are the brands that made us believe periods are blue, and that we’re unclean during menstruation. We need an open dialogue which includes reusable products, and doesn’t exclude pupils by focusing on expensive name-brand products.

4. We need to understand menstruation better

Sally King, from Menstrual Matters, shared her experience in which her PMS vomiting was misdiagnosed as anxiety because there wasn’t enough research on how menstruation affects the body. 

There’s a huge data gap. Due to many social, economic and political factors there is an inadequate diagnosis process to differentiate between health issues and those heightened or, caused by the menstrual cycle. There needs to be more medical and scientific research into how menstruation affects our bodies.

There has also been no national or regional survey about period poverty. And, that means we have no idea what the extent of the issue is, or who is tackling it. We need to work together to commission research, so we have hard evidence to lobby the government with.

5. We need to be more inclusive

There is a need to understand menstruation beyond the lens of a white, able-bodied cis-female. Menstruation intersects culture, sexuality, disabilities and religion. Therefore we must work to acknowledge the differences in people’s experiences of menstruation.

As, Mandu Reid from the Cup Effect noted, “making assumptions is one of the most dangerous things we can do”. It is important that we ask individuals how they need to be supported, and work with them to change the lives of their communities.

Saturday’s event focused on breaking the barriers of menstruation, and it did just that. Whilst Justine Greening may be able to overlook the issues of period poverty and period education, the menstrual queens I met at the conference will not. This marks the beginning of a national effort to change the way we view periods, reduce shame and tackle period poverty once and for all.

POWER TO THE PERIODS!