Lockdown Is Making People Easier Targets for Revenge Porn

Sextortion is a coronavirus symptom no one saw coming — with some experts saying they’ve seen a 60 percent increase in reports of nonconsensual porn. In the horniest time in modern history, what will it take to rob this abuse of its power?

It’s 2020 and roughly a third of the world’s population is on lockdown. One night, alone in the toils of your own isolation, a notification from Tinder, Feeld, or hell, even Gluten-Free Singles lights up your phone. It’s your virtual lover, and they want to sext.

What do you do?

A few months ago, lots of people would have rerouted. “I’m bad at sexting!” they may have said. “Let’s save the physical stuff for when we meet.” But today, with our thumbs jacked and muscular from the sort of desperate e-fucking wrought from weeks without human touch, the rhythm of love looks a bit different than it did before. “Send a video of your glistening, turgid genitalia first and ask questions later” has become the name of the game, and thankfully, it’s likely to stay that way until quarantine ends.

After all, the full-time dopamine drip of virtual sex is the one thing keeping most of us who don’t already live with our partners sane in lockdown. Whether you’re a separated couple, an excruciatingly solo single or a member of a dispersed and inconsolably horny pod of polyamorous party nymphs, the ability to sext, send nudes and videos and cyber-fuck until the sun rises is one of the last remaining threads of humanity — and happiness — we have left under the inhuman dominion of quarantine. 

We’ve found lots of innovative ways to do it, too. Almost as soon as lockdown began, we invented digital orgies, started having uncharacteristically long and meaningful conversations with Tinder dates and found our way into 32-person circle jerks on Zoom. We (almost) liquidated the internet’s sex toy stockpile, dabbled in masturbation data viz to kill the pain and, as Justin Lehmiller, a research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and author of Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire told Mashable, even started adding new digital skills like sexting and nude posing to our sexual repertoires. 

Record numbers of people are making official adult content now, too. OnlyFans — a site where cammers and bogus influencers alike accept subscription money in exchange for nudes and near nudes — reported 3.7 million new sign-ups since quarantine began, with 60,000 of them being from new creators. CamSoda, meanwhile, reported a 37 percent increase in new model sign-ups. 

If sexting, sending videos and general cyber-fucking weren’t already the norm before all this, it’s safe to say that lockdown has all but ensured they are now. 

But, there’s a problem. While virtual sex provides a vital sense of normalcy and connection during a time of chaos and isolation, few of these connections are anywhere near as private as we’d like them to be. Any vertebrate with thumbs can screenshot a nude or capture a video without the knowledge of the people in it, and few apps and websites alert users when this is happening (Snapchat and Wickr are notable exceptions). 

Couple that with the rise of Zoom bombings, the proliferation of facial recognition software and the failure of both the government and the porn industry to contain and address things like sextortion, cam piracy, deepfakes and revenge porn and a disturbing thought emerges: With digital sex on the rise and more people sexting, sending nudes and cyber-fucking than ever before, wouldn’t it also stand to reason the exploitation of these things would increase, too? 

Already, the answer appears to be a whopping and unfortunate “yes.” According to a growing number of victims, advocacy groups and online reputation managers whose job it is to find and remove illegally posted content, there’s been an alarming surge in both sextortion and non-consensual porn during lockdown, and the bizarre, occasionally desperate conditions of quarantine are almost single-handedly to blame. 

“We’ve definitely seen a rise in cases [of non-consensual pornography] since lockdown began,” says Sophie Mortimer, manager of the U.K.’s Revenge Porn Helpline. “There was a slight drop in calls during the first week, but since then, we’ve seen cases increase weekly by 35, 45 and 60 percent.” Concerningly, approximately half of these reports are coming from people with a history of abusive relationships, suggesting that the stress of lockdown may be aggravating some of the manipulative and coercive dynamics that characterize many instances of domestic abuse. 

Kate Isaacs, founder of the revenge porn victim’s rights campaign #NotYourPorn has noticed a similar trend since quarantine began, explaining over email that there have been “more pleas for help during this time than any other.” Last week, a woman who’d been isolating away from her boyfriend reached out to her over Twitter, explaining that she’d been sending him nudes and sexual videos to “keep the flame alive,” but had found that lockdown put “serious pressure” on their relationship. She didn’t feel like she was getting enough emotional support from him and suggested they take a break, but he “took it really badly” and responded by threatening to upload her videos to Pornhub.

It’s not clear yet whether he made good on his promise (most victims of revenge porn spend months trying to track down their videos), but Isaacs says this is typical of the “pleas for help” she’s been receiving since quarantine began. “It’s happening more because of the circumstances separating couples and lovers,” she says, explaining that sending nudes and videos might be a way to maintain a sense of normalcy and keep the passion going, but doing so comes with an inherent risk that only increases along with the amount of these nudes and videos in circulation.

Some people like Jennifer, however — a 29-year-old furloughed bartender in L.A. — couldn’t care less about that risk. “There’s a certain desperation and nonchalance to the kind of conversations I’ve been having with people while in quarantine,” she says. “I’m pretty lonely, I haven’t been touched in weeks, and honestly, I’m just trying to get off.” 

All of which has led to a somewhat, er, “diminished” capacity for sexual decision making on her part. Fueled by record-setting levels of “quarniness” — that’s “quarantine horniness,” to you — she, like many people, has been desperation-sexting her exes, sending nudes and videos at will and has even considered getting into camming sheerly for human connection and ramen money. 

“I really miss having someone to talk to,” she tells me, explaining that she’s sexted with “multiple randos from Feeld and FetLife” during quarantine out of “horny boredom,” exchanging photos, videos and erotic, Pulitzer-worthy DMs with men she’s never met and “probably never will.” Nine times out of ten, she doesn’t bother to verify they’re real or hide her identity unless they sound really sketchy; and while she’s well aware of the risks in doing so, she says she’s “not running for office anytime soon” and considers the risks to be well worth the reward. “If I lose my sexuality, I’ll lose my mind,” she says. “I think the thrill is what’s keeping me going — it makes me feel human and connected, which, living alone, I’m really lacking.” 

To her knowledge, none of her lockdown nudes, videos or chats have been lifted, uploaded elsewhere or used against her, but plenty of horny quarantinites aren’t so lucky. Webcam blackmail — also known as “sextortion” — has also been on the rise since the start of lockdown, and Mortimer says the Helpline has received twice as many calls about this type of coercion than it normally does. Mostly, calls come from male victims who fall prey to the manipulations of suspiciously sexy app matches, but also from a growing number of women who make overly trusting connections only to have their nudes and videos leveraged against them for control or cash. 

Mortimer agrees that it’s the unique loneliness of lockdown that’s driving this trend. “More people are spending more time alone and trying to alleviate that online,” she says. “That may be leading to online connections that aren’t always safe or healthy.” 

That rings a familiar bell for Jack, a 38-year-old TV producer in L.A. who was recently blackmailed by a Feeld match named “Ayomi” who seemed a little too good — and a little too bad at geography — to be true. “Looking back on it, there were so many obvious signs that I was talking to a scammer,” he says, explaining that he became suspicious and squinty-eyed after she told him she was from the nonexistent town of “Detroit, Maryland” and patently refused to video chat on any app that protected his anonymity. “She said she couldn’t use video on KIK because it ‘wasn’t working for her’ but that we could try Instagram instead. I thought that was super weird — who uses Instagram for video?”

In less trying times, the ordinarily cautious and judicious Jack would have heeded the red flags whipping him in the face, but after weeks of isolation with only his roommate for platonic social comfort, a few well-timed nudes from Ayomi caused his brain to “horny short-circuit” and he gave in to her bizarre request. Hoping to see her live and in color, he sent her his phone number and his Instagram handle so they could meet face-to-pixelated-face, topping off his brief reign of brain-dead quarniness with a photo of his face. 

“I still can’t believe I did that,” he tells me. “No face in the frame and no personal information is rule number one for video sex with a stranger. I don’t think there’s any way I would have done that had it not been for quarantine — the excitement of everything totally outweighed what would have been a normal risk assessment.”

By the time he realized his error, Ayomi was blitzing him hard with a cascade of increasingly compromising screenshots of their “pretty explicit” KIK conversation. “There was a photo of my face right by a photo of my dick,” he says. “It was pretty obvious the dick was mine.” She also screenshotted his Instagram contact list, sent it to him as an intimidation tactic and threatened to send a poorly Photoshopped collage of his nudes and freaky sexts to everyone on it if he didn’t send her $500. 

Jack, however, was unfazed. Five-hundred dollars seemed like a sort of amateur, Dr. Evil-like demand, so he calmly made his Instagram and Facebook accounts private, stopped replying to her and went about his day. Hours later though, the quarniness kicked back in and he went back to their KIK conversation to revisit the photos she’d sent. “That’s how horny I was,” he says. “I knew the person in those nudes wasn’t even her — it was probably some poor woman whose asshole boyfriend posted her pics — but that’s the crazy thing about being quarantine horny. It makes you do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do.” 

Still, Jack says he wouldn’t have been that upset if “Ayomi” had leaked his photos because he “doesn’t take a bad picture,” and is “actually a little exhibitionistic,” but not everyone has his confidence or photographic talent. Those who are more concerned that non-consensual porn might damage their relationships or future job prospects might want any photos or videos of them wiped off the face of the earth, and they might seek out the services of a reputation manager for help. 

That’s where Todd William, founder and CEO of the reputation management company Reputation Rhino, comes in. As someone whose job it is to remove photos or videos posted to tube sites, blogs and forums without their owner’s consent, he’s heard many reports of virtual sex increasing during quarantine. But rather than an uptick in new reports of privacy violations, William says he’s noticed a different sort of trend: more people are searching for themselves under lockdown, and they’re coming to him in droves because they’re not liking what they find. 

“While I initially expected interest in online reputation management to wane during the current crisis, we’re seeing a surge of interest in people wanting to improve their online image,” he says. “More people who have more time on their hands are Googling themselves and discovering older content online that they are concerned about.” Most often, finding this content comes as a surprise — William says many of his clients were unaware that their videos, images, blog comments and social media posts had been floating around. 

The amount of time people have to Google themselves and investigate surprising leads is one factor contributing to the rise in reputation management requests, but another is the looming prospect of a jobless future. With mass layoffs and disastrously high unemployment rates painting a grim picture of a low-paying, oversaturated job market, William believes people are more concerned than ever that their online presence comes up squeaky clean and porn-free. 

But even if it doesn’t, his hope is that the astronomical increase in virtual sex during quarantine — as well as its unfortunate byproducts — won’t limit a person’s future job prospects anywhere near as much as it might have in the past. Considering that quarantine has transformed digital fucking from a clandestine exchange to a favorite, well-accepted hobby of the entire human race, an “everyone’s doing it” approach should work to reduce the stigma and help people see that, as Jack says, “There’s really no shame here.” 

Theoretically, the massive amount of new models signing up for sites like OnlyFans and CamSoda should only further that sentiment — if unemployment is rampant, no one can work and everyone and their mother has an OnlyFans, is it really going to matter that your prospective employee showed some tit on the internet in 2020? 

William doesn’t think so, but he’s also adamant that it’s the voluntary sharing of these images and videos that matters. “Our images and videos — sexual and non-sexual — have a value and people should be free to voluntarily share these images with others, and even monetize them, if they so choose,” he says. “The key is that this choice should be voluntary and informed. I think there may be less of a stigma about intimate photos or videos if everyone’s nude images were freely and easily accessible, but until that time, few people (outside professional sex workers) want their first impression online to be a nude photo or sexually explicit video.”