Dissertation Abstracts

Experiences of individuals who have had sexual imagery shared without their consent

Author: Jade C Gilbourne, jade.gilbourne@york.ac.uk
Department: Sociology
University: Universit of York, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Prof. Dave Beer & Dr. Carol Robinson
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: revenge porn , image-based sexual abuse , sexual imagery , technology
Areas of Research: Body in the Social Sciences , Communication, Knowledge and Culture , Women in Society


Non-consensual sexual image sharing is an umbrella term which includes phenomenon such as 'revenge pornography', 'upskirting', 'sextortion', or 'image-based sexual abuse'. It applies to any scenario where a person has sexual content of themselves shared without their consent. This content is sometimes originally taken and shared consensually, but then shared on by other parties or stolen via hacking; in other circumstances, images themselves are taken without the consent (and sometimes without the knowledge) of the person depicted. These images are typically (but not always) shared online; social media, porn websites, private chat groups, or so-called 'revenge porn' websites are common hosts for such content. Non-consensual sexual image sharing is not a new phenomenon, but has greatly increased in the last decade. The increase in the use of online environments, paired with the availability of high-quality camera technology in smartphones, and an ever-increasing 'sexualisation' of culture has created a climate where sex and sexuality thrives in the online sphere. Sexual images can be taken and distributed instantly – and once distributed online, images circulate in perpetuity. As women are likely to be affected by non-consensual sexual image sharing, a background of misogyny both on and offline exacerbates this problem. The impact of having sexual images shared without consent can be severe. People can lose jobs, have relationships damaged with family or friends, and suffer deeply with their mental health. Despite this, there have been just a few studies on the experience of having sexual imagery shared without consent. These studies often focus on a single demographic and a specific 'form' of non-consensual sexual image sharing (for example, women's experiences of 'revenge porn'). This thesis aims to contribute to this growing field of research by collecting data from adult individuals who have had sexual imagery of themselves shared without their consent via qualitative, semi structured interviews. It seeks to explore the severity that the release of these images had on the individuals, including repercussions on their mental health, their careers, and their relationships with others. Additionally, it questions what steps (if any) the individual took to take control of these images and find justice. This could be a formal proceeding, such as reporting the incident to the police, or reporting the images to the host website. It could also include informal actions, such as confronting the perpetrator directly. Finally, it would aim to examine if the sharing of these images has caused changes to the behaviour of the individual – for instance, if they changed their image sharing habits. The study aims to offer much needed insight into the experiences of those victimised by this crime and contribute to a wider academic understanding of what it means to be affected by this phenomenon.