On Monday, the first defendants in Denmark’s teen child pornography case appeared before the court. Although the defendants only received 10 to 40 days in prison, their sentence bears with it the label of “sex offender” for at least 10 years. This will bar the teens and young adults from working in professions with children, like teaching.
Despite the fact that many of the online shares were from underaged teens, they will still face child pornography charges. Although the age of consent in Denmark is 15, a sexual image or video featuring anyone under the age of 18 is considered child pornography.
Facebook Videos & Child Pornography
In 2015 a Facebook video featuring 2 underaged teens participating in sexual acts went viral, shared mostly through Facebook Messenger. 1,004 young adults now stand accused in Denmark of sharing child pornography via Facebook. The Facebook video in question was filmed by two boys at a party. The video contains pornographic images of two 15 year olds in violation of Danish child ponography laws. The two boys who made the Facebook video have already been charged and sentenced.
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One of the defendants, 19 year old Mira Bech, seemed unwilling to take responsibility for her participation in cyberbullying and distributing child pornography and revenge porn. The teenager told Denmark’s TV2, “The video was just spreading all over the place, and people wanted to see what it was. So they were writing to each other, will you send it to me? And then suddenly, I had it too.”
Tania Dethlefsen of the Danish Family Planning Association pointed out that this is hardly a phenomenon exclusive to Denmark, telling NPR “A culture of young people spreading videos and photos of each other without consent and without being fully informed and aware about the consequences is a global phenomenon.”
Each fall Denmark holds a national sex education campaign. This year, the Danish Family Planning Association has been pushing to have digital rights added to the campaign. Many teenages don’t realize that sharing images of fellow underaged teens qualifies as child pornography. Not only can doing so ruin the lives and reputations of the victims, it also makes child pornography more accessible to pedophiles.
Facebook reached out to appropriate authorities in the US after uncovering that the video had been distributed via Messenger. The information provided by Facebook was then shared with the Danish police in 2017, enabling Danish authorities to file over 1,000 charges for distributing child pornography. Facebook informed Danish police that two videos as well as a pornographic image had been circulating through Messenger. Some of those charged with sharing the Facebook video did so hundreds of times.
A spokeswoman for Facebook told CNN:
Our systems run in the background and automatically remove and report intimate content involving children to (the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children) in the US, who in turn will review and dispatch the relevant information to the right law enforcement agencies across the globe.
Last fall, Facebook faced criticism for asking revenge porn victims to share the images with Facebook so they can then scan for the images in their database and find out who was sharing them. Facebook recommended that victims send the images to themselves on Messenger allowing Facebook to access them, as part of a pilot program in Australia led by the Australian eSafety Commissioner’s Office. According to eSafety, 1 in 5 Australians between the ages of 16 and 49 is affected by revenge porn.
Although the program has raised eyebrows, Facebook’s chief security officer Alex Stamos said, “We are not asking random people to submit their nudes. This is a test to provide *some* option to victims to take back control.” Victims of revenge porn report feeling disempowered and dehumanized. Many contemplate suicide.
The Danish case isn’t just about child pornography, it’s also connected to the growing phenomenon of revenge porn. Revenge porn is the term used to characterize the sharing of sexual images of someone in hopes of shaming, punishing, or bullying them. It often occurs after breakups when one partner, usually a man, shares explicit images sent to them by their former partner.
Revenge porn is even sometimes used in blackmail and extortion. Using revenge porn for blackmail is especially common in abusive relationships, as perpetrators know sharing explicit images, videos, or text messages can ruin careers, reputations, and even lives. Some revenge porn is even filmed using hidden cameras without the knowledge or consent of the victim.
Revenge porn has given birth to a new craze in the porn industry; there are now websites where revenge porn and porn filmed with hidden cameras can be posted. Often the images posted are of children and teens. The porn is sometimes posted with the victim’s full name, so if potential employers conduct a Google search they will find the images. Victims have contacted these websites to have their images removed, but the websites are virtually never willing to comply.
After a string of suicides of revenge porn victims, 38 states as well as the District of Columbia have enacted revenge porn laws. But distributing revenge porn can result in felony charges or jail time in only a few states.
Despite experimental programs and laws on the books, a meaningful solution to the revenge porn epidemic has yet to be implemented.
As seen in the Danish case, revenge porn is also closely related to another disturbing and deadly phenomenon, cyberbullying. Multiple studies have shown that over half of teens have been the victims of cyberbullying. 95% of teens report witnessing cyberbullying on social media. Like revenge porn, cyberbullying has been linked to dozens of teen suicides.
The good news about cyberbullying is that it leaves a paper trail that can be brought to authorities, whether the police (if severe enough) or schools. However studies show that only 1 in 10 cyberbullying victims will report it to their parents. Unfortunately in revenge porn and sextortion cases, many victims are too ashamed to make their voices heard to pursue legal measures. Those who disseminate or produce revenge porn bank on the taboo and shame associated with porn, assuming their victims will never speak up.
Because the Danish case qualifies as child pornography, it is easier to prosecute. Activists hope the case will serve as an example to deter revenge porn, cyberbullying, and the dissemination of child pornography.