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What we learned from watching Zara McDermott's powerful Revenge Porn documentary



Hot on the heels of the Framing Britney documentary that had the nation hooked, our attention has turned to Zara McDermott’s powerful Revenge Porn documentary on BBC Three.

Zara McDermott: Revenge Porn tackles the consequences of sending and sharing explicit photographs of yourself and others on social media. The documentary follows former Love Island star Zara’s journey from the age of 14 to who she is today – and takes a candid look at how she was a victim of revenge porn and how it impacted her family, relationships and self-confidence. She also shares stories from other individuals who have experienced the consequences of sending an explicit photograph to someone they thought they could trust.

Sending nudes is an increasingly common part of modern dating. In fact, 43% of young women have sent intimate or sexual images (for men, that’s 27%), according to a report published last month by Refuge. But there’s also been an unmistakable rise in these intimate images ending up online against the sender’s wishes. Figures obtained by the BBC from police forces across England and Wales show that the number of cases has soared by 117% between 2015/16 to 2018/19, from 852 to 1853.

You may know this sharing of private sexual imagery without consent as ‘revenge porn’, but there’s a growing demand to replace this terminology with language that is more accurate and inclusive, such as ‘non-consensual pornography’ or ‘image-based sexual abuse’. And since the Coronavirus outbreak, the frequency of such abuse has risen even higher.

The Revenge Porn Helpline – launched in 2015 following the introduction of section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act, which made intimate image abuse a criminal offence for the first time – opened more than 200 cases in the first four weeks of lockdown, more than for any similar period in its five-year history. By early August 2020, they’d received a staggering total of 1,700 cases, already surpassing the amount for the whole of 2019.

Here’s what we learnt from watching the informative, eye-opening and heartbreaking show…

Zara was betrayed not once, but twice

Zara’s first encounter of revenge porn happened when she was 14. During her school years, she describes herself as someone who was bullied for being a ‘goody two shoes’ of the school; she had never even kissed a boy but one asked her relentlessly for an explicit photo of her body,

“All I wanted was to be liked,” she says of sending the photos. “I did it in order to try and make myself more popular, but it had the complete adverse effect.”

Feeling alone, she thought that if the boy liked her, it might help her social standing among her classmates. But the boy shared the pictures around the school, and Zara felt suicidal as a result. She explains: “It was such a dark time, I’ve blocked out so much. A few days after the picture began circulating I was just so worn down. I think I remember not eating properly, I remember not sleeping properly, I remember just having this constant low mood that you could just never lift.

“I got to a place where I was suicidal. That’s how bad it was. Knowing that when [the images] came out, I was actually going to be bullied more – that was something I couldn’t bear. I’d say it does still affect me to this day.”

This incident wasn’t the only time someone Zara had trusted with intimate pictures betrayed that trust. At 21, whilst she was obliviously starring in Love Island in 2018, images circulated again.

Zara reveals that she thinks about her past every day, and if she could go back and not send the pictures, she would in a heartbeat. “The moment I share that image of myself, yes it’s my body but it’s no longer my choice,” she says to camera.

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Her post-Love Island life wasn’t as glamorous as it seemed


While most Love Islanders find fame and fortune when they exit the villa, due to the circulation of Zara’s images, Zara’s life was changing unknowingly whilst she was in the villa. “It was so embarrassing, I just wanted to die, I wanted to die,” she said of the time period. Whilst her fellow islanders were being lauded and celebrating, all Zara could think about when she met new people and made public appearances was: “have they seen my images?”.

It was people’s reactions that hurt her most

Zara reveals that rather than being angry at the people who shared the images, she was more hurt by the trolling and victim-blaming she received online. Zara goes on to explain that in cases like this, the blame is always placed on the sender of the images, rather than those who shared them.

“The problem is when people say, ‘Why did she do that?’ and turn their noses up,” she said.

“I read some comments online under an article about it, and they were like, ‘I’m confused as to why she’s [campaigning for awareness on revenge porn], considering she poses in a bikini on Instagram’.

“They’ve absolutely missed the point. I was completely violated and my trust was broken, someone broke the law – it’s not against the law to put bikini pictures on Instagram.”

Zara is using her voice for change

Zara currently has an Instagram following of 1.5 million. Knowing that there are others out there who have been a victim of revenge porn, she reached out to her following as a way to highlight that nobody is alone when it comes to these particular situations. Within hours, she was inundated with hundreds of responses and tells her followers that even though people do feel embarrassed, distressed or ashamed by what happened, there is someone you can talk to, as you are not alone in this.

Revenge porn is still happening

2020 was classified as the busiest year for the UK’s revenge porn helpline and it is still an ongoing occurrence, especially during national lockdown. According to a study, 1 in 3 are victims or ‘revenge porn’ or image based sexual abuse, confirming this particular sexual offence is still a recurring issue.

Zara, we personally thank you for the creation of this documentary, hopefully it opens the eyes of others and makes everyone aware of the consequences of posting explicit imagery on social media.

If you have had your intimate images shared without your consent, remember that you are not alone and there is help available. Get in touch with the Revenge Porn Helpline on help@revengepornhelpline.org.uk. There is also a step-by-step guide on notyourporn.com which should be followed before taking any action.

Due to the huge rise in cases mentioned in this article, the Revenge Porn Helpline (who are funded by the Home Office) urgently need more resources. If you would like to show your support, visit revengepornhelpline.org.uk to donate.



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