WOUGNET at RightsCon: Not "revenge porn" - Non-consensual sharing of intimate imagery in Uganda

At the RightsCon Online 2020 conference that took place 27-30 July 2020, the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) had the privilege to host a session titled “Not ‘revenge porn’: New trends in non-consensual intimate imagery in Uganda and the role of digital security”. This session discussed the new trends in tech, contextual understanding of the non-consensual sharing of intimate images (NCII), the legal frameworks, the NCII environment and perceptions of the different stakeholders, and the digital security practices that can be used for curbing this crime. One of the speakers was Judith Heard, a Ugandan celebrity and founder of One Day Uganda, who experienced NCII when her computer was stolen and her private pictures went viral on the internet. She shared her horrible experience dealing with the community, the police and the Pornography Control Committee who summoned her.  Ms. Heard is still battling the case with the Ugandan Police.  Having a survivor share her lived NCII experience during the session exposed the reality of this crime and the long-term effects that women face and yet never get justice or support from the communities.

NCII is a form of online violence that is on the rise in Uganda and other sub-Saharan African countries, commonly referred to as “revenge porn”. However, this is a misleading term because NCII is not pornography, but rather a form of online violence that women and young girls are facing in this digital age. The videos and images used are sometimes captured through hidden cameras in hotels or Airbnb rentals, public washrooms, etc. These intimate images or videos are then shared without the subject’s consent. There are also new trends in technology like stalkerware or spouseware that put women’s private data at risk.

Previously, the perpetrators were mostly ex-lovers who intended to shame the victims as revenge. However, now we see shameless people who want to extort money from the victims or their families as a form of blackmail or from the sale of these videos or pictures. Most of these videos are shared on porn sites as well.

Uganda does not have a law that protects women who experience NCII but instead the Anti-Pornography Act 2014 is used to litigate NCII cases. Unfortunately, this Act treats NCII as pornography. Section 13 of the Act criminalises the production, trafficking in, publication, broadcasting, procuring, importing, exporting, selling or abetting any form of pornography. This Act punishes the victim for the production of the explicit pictures/videos while the perpetrators responsible for the publication, broadcasting or trafficking are not investigated or summoned. Uganda has the Data Protection and Privacy Act 2019; however, this Act is neutral and doesn’t mention how to regulate NCII data.

In patriarchal societies like Uganda, the focus is largely on morals rather than human rights. The session discussed digital security with an emphasis on the practice of holistic security approaches – which include physical, digital and psychological security – that could be taken to ensure safety and curb NCII in our communities.

WOUGNET also hosted a breakaway session at the Virtual ICT4D Global Digital Development Forum (GDDF20) on 6 May 2020 titled “Holistic security strategies to prevent and curb non-consensual intimate images”.

Our goal in moderating these conversations is to create public awareness, advocate for policies that protect NCII victims, and undertake research to understand and avail local data (information) regarding NCII and shape advocacy initiatives in Uganda and other African countries.

Currently WOUGNET is running a campaign under the Ttaala programme by Defend Defenders on NCII on social media platforms (@wougnet) with the hashtag #AskforConsent. The aim of this campaign is to create awareness and understanding of NCII and change the mindset of the community, policy makers and perpetuators of this act.

WOUGNET is implementing another project, “Women Rights Online Media Campaigns in Uganda (WROC)”, under All Women Count-Take Back the Tech! Creative Interventions to Address Online Gender-Based Violence.

Rohini Lakshané-Bachchao from Project India and I facilitated this session at RightsCon online, and the speakers were Judith Heard from One Day Uganda, Sandra Aceng and Patricia Nyasuna from WOUGNET and Joan Katambi from the Uganda Institute of ICT.

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