Actions you can take
The first instinct for most people who discover that their intimate images are on the internet is to want them taken down IMMEDIATELY, and to delete every possible connection to the person they suspect of posting them. Shame and fury mean victims often do the purge as fast as they can. This includes emails, texts, social media accounts and pictures.
But, to hold the perpetrator accountable, you need evidence. The police and prosecutor will need it for a criminal case. Your lawyers will need it if you’re going to sue for damages. We see frequently that victims delete a lot of material that could have been valuable to them later, and regret doing so.
Below is a list of steps you can follow to increase your online privacy and safeguard your evidence. We recommend being systematic. Increasing your online privacy can help protect you in the future; gathering evidence can help you get justice for what you have already experienced. You can take back control by building the kind of case that will maximize your chances of prevailing in legal proceedings.
You can take any of these steps on your own, but if you prefer to get some help, please contact us.
To start with, it’s a good idea to make your your privacy settings on social media and other accounts more restrictive. Privacy settings can be used to control who can access your profile and, usually, your list of contacts. If you restrict access to that list, fewer people may receive copies of your image.
Don’t delete any content when you make these changes.
Facebook: You can view and adjust your privacy settings by selecting Settings & Privacy. Here, you can hide your list of Facebook friends and be the only person who can view your profile and content. This can prevent more people from viewing the image and make it more difficult for the perpetrator to distribute it to more of your contacts. You can learn more about adjusting your Facebook privacy settings here.
Twitter: You can adjust your privacy settings by selecting Safety and Security and then Privacy. Though most profile information, such as your location and picture, are public, you can limit who can view some sections. You can also protect your tweets so they are not public. Here is more information about adjusting your privacy settings in Twitter.
Instagram: You can view and adjust your privacy settings by selecting Privacy Settings & Information. By setting your account to private, you can ensure that only your followers can view what you share. You cannot hide your profile details from your followers, and the list of your followers is part of your profile. If the perpetrator is one of your followers, you will need to block him or her in order to hide this information. However, do not do so until you have preserved your evidence. More details on adjusting your Instagram privacy settings are here.
Tumblr: You can use Tumblr’s privacy settings to hide your blog or make some blog posts private, prevent people from finding you by using your email address, and hide your activity status. You can access these settings by selecting Help Center and then Your Account. There are various options for security settings, and you can control who views your account in Privacy Options.
Snapchat: You can adjust your privacy settings to control who can see certain account information, including your story and location, and who can contact you. You can learn more about your Snapchat privacy settings here.
You should also ensure that your account passwords, including social media and email, are secure. There are a few ways to do this.
Change your password: If you believe that an account has been compromised, you should change your password on not only that account, but others that may be accessible with that password. This includes social media and email accounts.
Password strength: When changing your password, avoid using personal information, such as your name or names of family members, friends and pets. Also avoid using numbers that other people may guess, such as your date of birth. Longer passwords are more secure, and you should include a variety of letters, characters and numbers. When using real words, replace at least one letter with a character or number. For example, instead of Dog, use D@g. Change your passwords regularly.
Password manager: Consider using a password manager to securely store your passwords. A password manager generally saves your login information in an encrypted form in its database. You choose one strong, difficult to guess password as your master password, and that is the only complex password you need to remember. When logging into an account, you must enter your master password. The password manager then uses its encrypted information to access the account. There are various reliable password managers, with different features. Some cost money, others are free.
Screenshots: After you have adjusted your privacy settings and strengthened your passwords, save all offending material. Without this, you may not be able to pursue a legal case, so this step is crucial. You can save the material by taking screenshots or saving the material to PDF. If the material is a video, save the entire contents of the video. If you don’t know how to take screenshots, do an internet search for “how do I take a screenshot” and follow the directions for your device. You want to do this for every website and app the perpetrator has used.
The screenshots should show as much information about the posts as possible, including the poster’s username, the date and time of posting, and any captions or comments. Facebook and other platforms often filter some comments when you scroll down your timeline—try to make all comments visible if possible. It’s very important that the time and date of your screenshot is visible if it later becomes used as evidence.
Merging screenshots: If you take screenshots on your smartphone, you can use one of the widely available screenshot stitching apps, such as Tailor, to merge multiple screenshots of a long chat thread into a single image. The latest versions of iPhones and Android phones also offer screen recording solutions, if you find it’s easier to capture a video of you scrolling (slowly) through chats or websites.
Store multiple copies: Keep your evidence in a safe place, and make multiple copies. For an electronic copy, it’s good to store it separately from your usual computer, for example using a thumb drive or external hard drive that you can put in a safe place (maybe with a friend or work colleague). A cloud-based account will add extra security. Just in case, you should also print out a copy and store it in a safe place. If you have physical evidence only, like letters and photographs, make copies and make sure the originals and the copies are in different safe places. You should also make an electronic copy.
Ask for help when you need it: Assembling evidence can be time consuming and stressful. You may not be feeling ready to do this on your own – that’s OK. If you have a friend or a family member you trust and who can help, ask them. This is also something we can help with.
If you’re going to build a case against the perpetrator, the most useful tool for lawyers or police is a straightforward account of what has happened to you. Write down, on a computer or on paper, exactly what has happened to you and what you did in response, with dates if possible. It is best to write this in chronological order, and include the names of witnesses or people who can confirm your account on each day. If you can insert screenshots or other evidence in your account where they fit in the timeline, that will help.
You want to make it easy for other people to understand what happened to you and to keep a record that you can use later when your memory may not be so clear.
Again, keep this in a safe place, and also keep a copy someplace secure, in case the perpetrator tries to intervene.
The police are often in the best position to help victims of online abuse and non-consensual pornography. They have resources to investigate the internet that the rest of us don’t, and can put the perpetrator in jail.
If you receive any threats of physical violence or feel unsafe, call the police immediately and get to a safe place.
In our experience, the police are very helpful in cases when violence is threatened. In one case we saw them arrest a perpetrator within an hour of our client’s call.
However, the police can struggle with crimes that happen exclusively online, which is often the case with non-consensual pornography. Some police forces do not understand how devastating this crime can be to the victim. Some are unfortunately even tempted to blame the victim for having a naked photo to begin with.
In cases where the victim and perpetrator don’t live in the same place, getting police to coordinate can be tough. A criminal prosecution also requires good evidence because of the high burden of proof in criminal proceedings, so it’s crucial to approach the police with all of your evidence in good order. If possible, print it out, number each piece of evidence, and put it in a binder. Include a written timeline describing what has happened to you and your own actions in response, and include a brief description of each numbered piece of evidence and its significance.
Ideally, when you make a police complaint, ask for a police officer who focuses on online harassment or has special training to deal with online crime. That may not be always possible, but more police forces are developing this and it’s a good idea to ask. Depending on your situation, it may also be helpful to ask for a domestic violence officer. If the perpetrator is a past or current partner and has been abusive (physically and/or psychologically), an officer familiar with domestic violence may be in a better position to assist you.
Going to the police can be intimidating. If it makes you uncomfortable, ask a friend or family member to go along, ideally one who knows the case and can fill in gaps as you give your account. You can also contact us if you would like a legal professional to help prepare a police report for you. We will first schedule a consultation to learn more about your situation and determine the appropriate next steps.
Most mainstream social media sites allow users to request a takedown of harmful content, including non-consensual pornography. This means that, if you see private images shared without your consent, you request that the site take steps to remove the content.
The procedures on each site are different. We have compiled a list of takedown resources for you here. If you want our help to do this, contact us.
If you want to learn more about your legal options, it’s best to speak with a lawyer. Every case is different, so there’s no “one size fits all” solution. A lawyer who has handled other cases in this area can help guide you through the process.
Below are some examples of possible legal actions you can take, depending on your situation. If you want to discuss your case with us, please visit our Legal Help page to learn about our service and how to engage us.
Preparing a detailed timeline: We can work with you to organize your evidence and prepare a detailed timeline of what happened. You can use this when filing a police report, to support a criminal complaint by providing it to the prosecutor, or to build your own civil case. Though this is something you can do on your own, or with someone you trust, we understand that it can be overwhelming to look at and organize your evidence, so lawyers may be useful.
Takedown requests: This is a request to a website, search engine, social media site or pornography site to take down the harmful content. This can also include requests to stop violating copyright law.
Cease and desist letter: This is a letter sent to the perpetrator, either by you or by a lawyer, which details what he or she has done to you, and the laws that this conduct violates. This sometimes wakes perpetrators up to the fact they’re doing something wrong and gets them to stop.
Civil lawsuit: Sometimes the law enables you to sue your perpetrator(s) in civil court. The basis of the lawsuit could be the posting of the non-consensual image, if your jurisdiction permits this, or a related cause of action, such as harassment or blackmail. If you win, your perpetrator may be ordered to pay you money. This will not undo what happened, but it at least holds the perpetrator accountable.
Civil injunction: This is a motion filed with the court to order the perpetrator to immediately stop their conduct. If the motion is granted, the perpetrator must respect the court order. If not, he or she may face legal consequences.