The abuse of images:
An English translation of the article:”het misbruik van beeldmateriaal” by Peter Nuyts juni 2010 Vlissingen
As a result of technological developments over the past decades, we now live in an age in which it has become very easy to make photo or a film of someone and to distribute it. Digital cameras and mobile phones with cameras have made it possible to capture moving or still images of people and to place these on the internet within just minutes. Millions of internet users subsequently have access to these images. Next to the positive sides, there are also drawbacks to this development.
The media is increasingly reporting that images, and the possibility to spread them over the internet, are being used as a form of blackmail or coercion. Human traffickers, pimps, pedophiles or vengeful ex partners misuse compromising images of their victims for the sake of blackmail. Digital bullying and humiliating of people by classmates or even unknown persons is also an increasing phenomenon.
If you look more deeply into this problem you will undoubtedly be shocked at how easy it is to obtain compromising images of other people. This varies from remotely operated webcams after hacking someone’s PC, to secretly filming someone with a mobile phone. It is also becoming increasingly clear just how powerless victims of this form of abuse are. Once a perpetrator has obtained a compromising photo, it is just a small step to place it on the internet. And once it is placed on the internet it is impossible to remove it from the internet. According to the public prosecutor in the D.V. case "These films can spend an entire lifetime floating around the world."
In order to better protect victims of this abuse, this unequal situation between the perpetrator and the victim must be brought back into balance. This could be achieved by developing technology that aids the victim and by expanding the statutory rights. An instrument that is capable of tracking down specific images (photos and films on which the victim is recognizable and therefore susceptible to blackmail, damage to their reputation or otherwise) on the internet needs to be developed. After they have been found the internet provider or website host in question should be ordered to remove these images from the website. The government should undertake to stimulate initiatives that are aimed at protecting victims.
The need for such an instrument to be developed is apparent from the stories told by victims. According to the personal accounts of victims of human traffickers and loverboys, photos and films of the victims are made and subsequently used to blackmail them. As a result victims are often forced to prostitute themselves or to smuggle drugs. The fact that these images are already on the internet, or can be put on the internet prevents the victim from reporting this to the police and makes it impossible for them to escape from the human trafficker’s sphere of influence.
Additionally, as a consequence of the misuse of these images, victims often end up being permanently traumatized. The photos and films continue to circulate on the internet and remain permanently available to everyone. Examples of abuse include nude photos, video recordings of a rape or a video in which someone is being humiliated by happy slapping. As a result the crime continues to exist in the minds of the victim, which makes it very difficult for them to overcome this traumatic experience. This is, among others, due to the fact that the victim does not know where these images are stored, whether the images still exist and to what extent they have been circulated.
There are different forms of abuse of images.
1. Human traffickers and loverboys:
One group of criminals that uses blackmail that involves compromising images are human traffickers and lover boys. In the report by Rood Utrecht, can be found that victims are forced (because of the images) into prostitution, to take out bank loans, smuggle and/or deal drugs or make porn movies. The photographs and video footage are also used to ensure that the victims do not go to the authorities. If a victim does go to the police, the victim knows the images will be used as revenge, by spreading them. So the victim avoids all contact with the police out of fear.
(source: “ In gesprek met slachtoffers van loverboys” juni 2009, report by Rood Utrecht)
In the 7th national human trafficking report, we read that loverboys use blackmail involving photographs or video footage to force their victims into prostitution. Human traffickers also use the following method: victims are forced to perform sexual acts on webcams over the Internet, after which the video material is used as a means of coercion.
The management summary of the report: “Analyse loverboys op het internet” (2009) by the Rotterdam Rijnmond police department states “the police and help services are hearing more and more stories of victims being blackmailed by loverboys with the threat of posting sensitive information/images/video on the Internet. The source of this information is sometimes MSN chats and/or webcam sessions.”
But even without the Internet, it is easy to produce images that can later be used to blackmail the victim. The group of alleged loverboys from Pijnacker-Noord (Amsterdam) filmed their victims with a GSM camera while they were being forced to engage in group sex.
(source: “ Meer slachtoffers in loverboys zaak”: article newspaper algemeen dagblad.nl 05/08/09 )
2. The solo PC hacker:
Next to human traffickers and loverboys, the threat comes from a different angle. Among Internet users is a group of people that are able to use a variety of ways to gain control of other people’s computers. They use this knowledge to obtain material they then use to blackmail victims.
An example is the pedophile F.B. who was able to obtain compromising photos of his victims, including a 16 year old and a 10-year-old child who he blackmailed in order to use them sexually.
(source: “Ik zat helemaal te shaken”: article newspaper AD.nl 23/05/08 )
Another example is D.V., who had infected at least 200 computers with a Trojan horse virus, which allowed him to activate his victims’ webcams without their knowledge. D.V. retrieved photos and films from the hacked computers and, using the webcams he was able to activate, filmed unsuspecting girls while they undressed in their bedrooms.
He would then confront his victims with these images and demanded ever more intimate nude photographs and films of them, which he threatened to release on the Internet. (He targeted girls aged 11 to 17.)
And he wasn’t not bluffing either as became clear when a couple of his victims came across compromising material of themselves on the Internet, including a porn site and a Korean website. Printed photographs were distributed at the school of another of his victims.
(source: “Slachtoffers van pc seks snikkend in de rechtzaal”: article newspaper Telegraaf.nl 11/07/08
Another example. A British man from Ilkeston pretended to be a teenager in Internet chat rooms. A photo of himself that he sent to his contacts turned out to be a virus, which allowed him to gain access to his victims’ computers. He has confessed that he blackmailed young girls using the information he had obtained from the computers and that he forced them to take nude photographs of themselves and send them to him.
(source: “ Pedo dwong naakfoto’s tienermeisjes af via Trojaans paard”: article webwereld.nl 05/11/06 )
3. Digital bullying, cyber bullying:
Compromising images are not only used to blackmail people. They are sometimes used to bully or get revenge. Digital bullying is a form of bullying that uses compromising photographs and films. These may have been obtained illegally, or they may have been given voluntarily, for example, to an ex partner.
A couple of known forms of cyber bullying are;
- Photographs and films of yourself or personal information being placed on websites against your will.
- Using a graphics editing program, a photo of a person can be scanned, after which the head of the victim is cut out and placed on the photo of a naked body found somewhere on the Internet. The manipulated photograph is then distributed over the Internet. Alternatively, other offensive background material is used.
- a photograph of a person can be used for a bullying site. A photo is taken of someone (without their permission) and then uploaded (again without their permission) to a website such as ugly people.nl.
On sites that warn about cyber bullying, you can read how easy it is to make films of someone using a cell phone, without the person concerned even being aware of it.
Cell phones these days come with built-in video cameras suitable for making short films, which can then be forwarded to other cell phones and placed on the Internet. Because the camera is on the back of the phone, the perpetrator can pretend he is making a phone call when in fact he is actually filming his victim who is aware of nothing.
In the US in 2005, a number of pedophiles were arrested who used this technique to film young children on the beach. The pedophiles would position themselves next to unsuspecting families who were dressing and undressing their young children while they pretended to be having telephone conversations. They filmed the naked children and sold the films via the Internet.
(source: “ Vormen van cyberpesten”: article Cyberpesten.be 2009 )
4. Happy slapping and sexting:
Happy slapping; is a term for the phenomenon in which a person is beaten up and filmed at the same time. The images are then showed to others or placed on the Internet. This form of bullying is similar to digital bullying with the difference that the perpetrators and victims often do not know each other. The perpetrators often pick out a victim at random. Not just violence, but also sexual acts and other compromising situations are filmed.
A few examples of happy slapping.
On 18 June 2005, three 14 year olds were arrested on suspicion of raping an 11-year-old girl and filming the act. The local authorities were informed by the school administration after the images were discovered on the cell phones of other students.
Seven minors beat up a 15-year-old handicapped classmate.
Their victim, a 15-year-old class and schoolmate was 66% physically handicapped. They pulled a coat over his head and beat and stomped him until he was bleeding. The violence was filmed by one of the boys using a cell phone.
A number of films are being circulated, including films from Japan, in which schoolgirls have their panties pulled down on the street. When the shocked girl has pulled back up her panty, the perpetrator is gone. However, the act is filmed with a cell phone and the material is uploaded on the Internet.
The Brussels public prosecutor’s office has received a number of complaints from people being blackmailed with photos taken using cell phones. "Recently, we have been receiving an increasing number of complaints from people who are being told that they were filmed while on the toilet, or while they crossed their legs under the table, and more of that kind of thing," Brussels public prosecutor’s office has confirmed. The films are mostly made with cell phones. The victims are told that the film may well be uploaded to a popular website such as YouTube.
(source: “ Minderjarigen plegen chantage met gsm foto’s ”: article newspaper De morgen.be. 14/03/08 )