Using Technology to Hurt Others
Some people use technology—such as digital photos, videos, apps, and social media—to engage in harassing, unsolicited, or non-consensual sexual interactions. It can leave the person on the other end feeling manipulated, unsafe, and exposed, like when someone forwards a text, photo, or “sext” intended only for the original recipient. The laws pertaining to these situations vary from state to state and platform to platform, and they are evolving rapidly. Learn more about these situations so you can feel better prepared to report and protect yourself if they should occur.
What are some ways people use digital technology to hurt others?
The following list includes some of the ways a person can use digital technology in a sexually explicit or violating way.
- Cyberbullying, or the “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices” according to the Cyberbullying Research Center
- Distributing sexual images of someone without consent
- Hacking into someone’s digital archive and stealing personal images not intended for public sharing
- Harassing someone through an online gaming platform
- Posting shaming, embarrassing, sensitive, or otherwise inappropriate information about someone on social media or other public sites
- Sending sexually explicit emails that are unwelcome or unsolicited
- Sending sexually explicit photos and/or messages, also known as sexting, when they are unwanted or unsolicited
- Taking sexually explicit pictures or videos of someone without their consent
- Unsolicited sharing of pornography or pornographic images
- Using technology to stalk by monitoring someone’s whereabouts with GPS or other tracking systems, conducting video voyeurism, or persistently contacting someone against their will
Who can I talk to?
If you receive unwanted digital communication of a sexual nature, it can leave you feeling uncomfortable or scared. Visit online.rainn.org to chat with someone who is trained to help.
How can I report it?
You have several options for reporting. In some cases, there aren’t laws that directly prohibit these types of situations, even if they are sexually explicit or unwelcome. You can, however, often have that person removed or blocked from a website. If you receive communication that is threatening, part of a pattern of abuse, or consistent with harassment, don’t hesitate to contact law enforcement.
- Keep evidence by taking screenshots or printing out text messages, social media posts, or other exchanges. Some information is easily deleted—a picture or hard copy can provide evidence that the content was sent. If the interaction occurred through a public website or social media channel, you can report the exchange to the host of the site. Most websites that allow exchanges between users have a “report” button or link located near the chat window.
- You can contact local authorities and report the activity. Note that laws about digital technology and communication will vary, and in some cases there are no laws to regulate this use of technology.
- If the situation involves a minor or images of a minor, report to law enforcement or call 911 immediately. You can also make a report on the Cyber Tipline.
- If the situation occurred among co-workers or managers, it might be considered a form of sexual harassment and is illegal. Contact your Human Resources Department to report the activity.
What can I do to feel safer?
There are some precautionary steps you can take to increase your safety and security across different platforms.
- Limit what information you post about yourself online. Personally identifying information can be used against you. For instance, posting your personal email on a public blog means that people you don’t know have a way to contact you.
- Use caution when taking digital photographs of yourself. Every digital camera can be connected to the internet, and therefore is subject to hacking.
- If you share a picture, either online or with another person, be mindful that you are increasing the odds that someone will see the photograph, even if it was unintended.
- If someone is making you uncomfortable on a public site, report them or block them using the site’s reporting function as soon as possible.
To speak with someone who is trained to help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.