Dear Law Enforcement,
We need to talk about investigating Nonconsensual Image Abuse (NCIA), and Revenge Porn.
You must take this more seriously. That’s not to say there aren’t some agencies or even some productive members of your teams that do investigate, but as a whole, you’re not putting enough effort into these cases.
- You need to allocate resources to your cyber-crime units.
- You need to train your dispatchers and operators that you DO investigate cybercrimes. Please stop sending victims to the FBI; they don’t work with adult cases.
- You need to focus and put time into these cases.
It’s 2020, and things aren’t going to get less intertwined with technology.
Victims of Nonconsensual Image Abuse (NCIA), also known as Revenge Porn, are going without help due to a lack of effort to understand and enforce cyber-crime laws. Remember, you are the first line of defense for victims of NCIA. In a world where victim-blaming runs rampant, you need to be willing to help those that exercise their bravery in reporting.
Eliminate Victim Blaming Practices
Please stop telling victims they shouldn’t have shared intimate photos with the person they trusted — we know, and we learned the hard way. Forcing a victim to engage in retrospective or “if only” thinking doesn’t help, and it certainly doesn’t take back that a crime occurred and a person was violated.
As we all know, victims of sexually related crimes are far too often greeted with blame when they try to report. Why do you think formal reporting numbers are so far off from the hundreds of studies on prevalence? What we all need is for law enforcement to practice exercising objectivity. Instead of thinking, “Well, I wouldn’t send a photo like that to someone,” try to think, “was a crime committed here?” Statutes are available at your fingertips to help you recognize the indicators of a crime.
By the way, consensually sharing private photos with your partner is not a crime. Sharing photos without consent is a crime – in 46 states. Consent is key.
Treat NCIA Reports as an Assualt Report
Let’s be honest, though; many of you need training on handling reports of assault too.
You should treat victims of NCIA with the same sense of respect and compassion that you would treat a victim of physical assault. Studies show that victims of Revenge Porn exhibit the same long-term damaging impacts as victims of in-person assault.
When someone calls to report a crime taking place, they aren’t doing it for entertainment. They’re doing it because they’re hurt, scared, and want to prevent this crime, whatever it is, from happening again. Your job is to get to the bottom of what happened, collect evidence, take the report, and bring it to Lady Justice’s bench. Sure, sometimes it’s more complicated than you’d prefer, and you have to consult colleagues or read up on a specific law. Try to remember that because something is difficult doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve your attention. The difficult to understand reports are the ones that desperately need your help to provide a victim with the opportunity to see justice and protection.
Remember: it is not your job to judge someone for doing something you wouldn’t do. Your job is to protect your community, and I recommend you do it with compassion and objectivity.
So let’s go over some things you should do when someone reports Nonconsensual Image Abuse or Revenge Porn.
- Hold your judgments until you’re off the clock — even then, keep them to yourself.
- Search for a statute that fits if one is not provided to you by the victim/reporter.
- Be compassionate and objective.
- Ask if the reporter knows who committed the crime. If not, see number 5.
- Take steps to collect available evidence — BEFORE TALKING TO THE PERSON OF INTEREST (POI)
- Issue subpoenas to collect identifying information.
- Collect devices (if you have probable cause enough for a warrant, which you should).
- Make sure you have all the available evidence needed.
- Now you can talk to the POI because you already have collected the evidence, and they do not have a chance to tamper with it. But, be wary. If the victim expresses fear of being harmed, take that seriously, and apply necessary precautions, such as helping the victim get an order of protection and/or a no-contact order.
- Remember. You are an advocate for the law and those affected by someone breaking the law.
- And finally, remember, you have the burden of investigating a crime. Even if that crime doesn’t seem serious to you personally, if it is a law that has been broken, you have a duty to investigate it.
I know resources can be limited, but your communities need you to assess your teams, and if you don’t have the resources to help victims, something is very wrong, and it needs to be remedied.
This comes from a woman who spent over a year investigating her own victimization, with far fewer resources than you have to offer, only to be told it’s not enough, to be told I could see true justice if only law enforcement had done this or that. This is coming from a woman who is scared her abuser will walk free, knowing she’s not the only one he’s harmed. This is coming from a woman who wants to help you help our communities.
So, let’s do this. Let’s make a change.