Non-consensual intimate images (NCII), more commonly known by the misnomer “revenge porn” refers to sexually explicit images and videos that are captured, published, or circulated without the consent of one or more persons in the frame. NCII is a systemic and societal problem and not only a limited matter of “revenge” – it ranges from voyeuristic neighbors to hidden cameras in hotel rooms. Uganda’s law does not provide adequate redress to NCII victims and lacks gender-sensitive provisions to recognize NCII as violence and breach of privacy. In some instances, the law was used to punish the victims.
On July 28th, 2020 in the RightsCon Online The conference, WOUGNET hosted a session entitled; Not ‘revenge porn’: New trends in non-consensual intimate imagery in Uganda and the role of digital security. The session comprised of a diversity of speakers including Ms. Judith Heard a Ugandan socialite and also founder of Day One Uganda. Ms. Joan Katambi an Assistant Lecturer at the Uganda University of ICT, Sandra Aceng a Program Officer at WOUGNET, and myself. This session was impeccably facilitated by Ms. Peace Olive Amuge a Program Manager at WOUGNET and Ms. Rohini Lakshané Director (Emerging Research) Bachchao Project in India.
During this session, the different speakers managed to elucidate the legal framework in Uganda, the social-cultural environment and its impact on victims as well as new trends in technology and digital security measures.
While sharing her experience as a victim of NCII, Ms. Judith Heard expressed displeasure in the law enforcers who mocked her when she reported to the police station. As if it wasn’t enough that she was already being blamed for showing her nudity to the nation which was not even true. By virtue of the anti-pornography law in Uganda, Judith had to report to the police station every month and if found guilty, she would be arrested and serve a 10-year sentence in prison. With disillusionment she said ;
“Why is it that the victim gets taken to jail?” “Why doesn’t the police do anything to arrest the people who published the photos? At the end of the day how are you protecting me? how are you walking with me as the police from Uganda?” “There is no one protecting me!”
For Judith, the hurt was even worse because she received so many insults from the public, even from women who she believed would stand with her in such a depressing time.
Most people regard NCII as “revenge porn” which implies that taking a picture or allowing someone else to take your picture is a ‘pornographic act’. But this is not the case, it is the stigma related to NCII now because of clauses in the Ugandan anti-pornography act 2014. For instance, when you send an image (s) or a video (s) to someone else rather than the person who you were sending it to, will be classified as “pornography.” While speaking at the conference, Sandra informed the audience that NCII is seen as inexistent during discussions on violence against women and girls in Uganda because NCII is not completely recognized as a form of ‘online violence.’ Revenge porn is a misleading term that ends up even misleading the general public and policymakers because when women are harassed, the law does nothing to protect victims but rather blames them for their leaked images and videos which becomes a double trauma for the victims. In some cases, the victims end up apologizing to the public for a crime they didn’t commit like the case of Desire Luzinda a Ugandan musician.
“NCII undermines women's gender equality and it is a breach of privacy, sexual expression, and freedom of the expression online.” Sandra explained
Ms. Joan Katambi added that the laws in Uganda do not protect victims of NCII. The Anti-Pornography Act of 2014 does not take into account how these pictures are shared and end up getting in the public. Furthermore, it doesn’t take into account that most of these women are victims, not perpetrators. Joan pointed out the maximization of Digital Security measures and encouraged different stakeholders especially civil society to share best practices to ensure women’s safety online and offline.
I then explained that Uganda is a religious country and has a diversity of cultures that enforce different moral codes. Because of this, we are socialized to behave in certain ways right from childhood which highly impacts our perceptions when things we consider “morally incorrect” happen. In this case NCII, the question is; “Why did you take such pictures?” What were you thinking? You must be promiscuous”. So, the focus and blame immediately go to who is in the picture and not how it got there. A lot of victimization builds up especially from fellow women which are quite disappointing. This is sad because it causes a lot of pain, confusion, anger, depression, and worst, silence for the victim.
In 2017, Uganda set up a Pornography Control Committee with nine members composing of some religious leaders with the intent to detect and curtail the circulation of pornographic material. For the Government it is more of policing morality and protecting the country’s moral values.
Sandra shared the newest developments in tech such as spouseware/ stalkerware commonly known as spyware and also mentioned that during this COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in different parts of the world, there has also been the increased usage of boss ware used by employers to spy on their employees which is a threat to digital human rights especially women’s rights online and their privacy. She said that once the stalkerware or spouseware is downloaded, everything can be collected, such as the location data, e-mails, phone calls, images, videos, etc.
She suggested that Internet users can avoid these new threats to online safety and privacy from being plugged onto their ICT tools by;
- Never leaving their devices unattended.
- Downloading the cybersecurity apps which can detect spyware and remove it
- Installing antivirus software
There is some light at the end of the tunnel as civil society Organizations like WOUGNET, digital human rights lab (DHRLab) and Pollicy. among others have come out to create awareness and encourage digital safety as well as policy Advocacy to integrate gender sensitivity in curbing such crime.
As internet users, it is important to be responsible as we post and share information; just because you got a nude photo doesn’t give you the right to share it. Remember never to violate anyone’s TRUST and CONSENT. Let us restore the dignity of victims because at the end of the day no one deserves this kind of humiliation.
Compiled by Patricia Nyasuna
Program Officer Gender & ICT Policy Advocacy (WOUGNET)