Girls on Film: How Innocent Pictures Feed the Internet Porn Machine
When I was in high school, someone took a photo of me in our school’s production of a Tom Stoppard play. For some reason my character was on her hands and knees in a ballroom-dancing outfit. One of my friends asked me if he could borrow the photo, to prove to another girl, he said, that I was in the school play. I never saw it again. I thought little of it. To me it was a funny photo of me in a pink dress. To the testosterone-charged boys among whom it circulated, it was a photo of cleavage. How do I know this? Years later my husband told me. He saw the photo.
I was lucky. There was just one photo as color copies were too expensive for school-age boys. The damage was pretty much limited to one zipcode. And I was dressed. But today, capturing and preserving a girl’s image is an extremely, globally high-risk proposition. One false step and you’re fed to the Internet trolls.
The British Internet Watch Foundation, which works with local police to investigate complaints of online child sexual abuse, recently combed through its database of sites specifically for images that looked like they were self-portraits or self-made videos. In a mere 47 hours they found more than 12,000 instances of girls who had taken provocative portraits or videos of themselves; when they examined the provenance of these photos, they found 88% of them had been lifted from other websites, including social media. That is, almost nine times out of ten, the self-portraits on the porny or otherwise offensive websites were used without the permission or knowledge of the people in them.
Why do young girls take pictures of themselves semi-naked or in come-hither poses? Theories abound. Some point to the mainstreaming of porn. Others attribute it to an increasingly sexualized society in which girls are saturated with images of women doing their best to inspire lust. There are theories that girls are just trying on various identities, playing at being adult. Some girls are coaxed into it by boyfriends, or lure into it by predators. Some are not thinking past the spur-of-the-moment snapshot on a camera phone. And then, too, there are teens who enjoy being sexual creatures and don’t care who knows.