Men Are Now Using Marriage Sites for Blackmail & Revenge Porn

Men Are Now Using Marriage Sites for Blackmail & Revenge Porn

There are many success stories of people finding their partners via matrimonial websites, social media etc., but with any unexplored territory, there are dangers awaiting. In a world where instant communication, and the sharing of information is easier than it has ever been, there appears to be a sinister development in the ways technology is being used as a weapon against women.

Women are increasingly finding themselves the victims of blackmail, sexual assault, fraud, theft, and in some cases, murder, as a result of the abuse of social media and technology. Just last month, Farhan Mirza, a 38-year-old Pakistani man from Wales was sentenced to 8.5 years in prison for blackmailing (among other charges) at least three women.

He, and many other predators involved in similar cases, lured women into a relationship, promising marriage, then took compromising photos of them (without their knowledge). tweet

He approached them by signing up to marriage websites posing as a doctor from a well-educated professional family. Why is his online persona important? Because it constructs the stereotypical image of “good husband” material a lot of ethnic minority parents look for. He, and many other predators involved in similar cases, lured women into a relationship, promising marriage, then took compromising photos of them (without their knowledge). Threats were then made to post these photos to social media websites, unless the women paid large sums of money and, in some cases, carry out sexual acts.

I know there will be a lot of people reading this with a judgmental face, thinking, “Why on earth would you send pictures like this?” It is an interesting question but with no simple answer. It’s easy to blame technology, the ease of sharing, selfie culture, etc. Even though I think these issues are contributing factors, they seem secondary to the emerging truth that we, as a global community, are starting to recognise: that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we raise girls to feel about themselves. A study conducted by Girlguiding UK showed that a startling number of primary school-age girls experienced sexual harassment in various forms or had been made to feel inferior because of their gender.

The Everyday Sexism project was set up to share stories of sexism from across the globe. Just two days before writing this article, I came across a story on their website of a 15-year-old girl. She wrote that at age 12, her breasts were a D cup and she felt constantly stared at by grown men despite looking very young. She said that, at the time, she felt this was normal and made her feel more “grown up.” With this type of accepted sexualization in our culture, it is no coincidence that all the girls included in the 2013 study said they felt judged for their looks rather than their ability.

More recent studies looking at the impact of social media on our body image show that, although sites such as Facebook are not directly the cause of low self-esteem being on the increase, they certainly contribute. The premise of many social media sites is that you post something, then measure how popular it is by the number of “likes” it receives. Claire Mysko, an award-winning author and an internationally recognised expert on body image, leadership, and media literacy, believes that this can be a “catalyst for insecurity.”

With this type of accepted sexualization in our culture, it is no coincidence that all the girls included in the 2013 study said they felt judged for their looks rather than their ability. tweet

So how can predators like Mirza exact as much influence as they do? A lot of their “success” comes down to cultural traditions surrounding the concept of shame. In many cases, women would rather endure blackmail than have an indecent image/video of themselves in the public sphere. In Mirza’s case, one of his victims was pressured into giving him hundreds of pounds—otherwise he would “make her mega famous” by releasing images of her, in an act of revenge porn, that he had taken without her consent. Another case was of a girl in rural Tunisia who was sexually assaulted, then photographed naked by a friend of her father. He used this image to keep her quiet, subject her to months of sexual violence, as well as blackmail her for money. It was only when he tried to rape her younger sister that she finally snapped and killed him. She is now serving a 25-year-sentence in prison.

A lot of these women fear the consequences of images being shared more than the cost of keeping quiet. It is not hard to understand what causes such fear when you hear stories like that of Qandeel Baloch who, earlier this year, was murdered by her own brother for sharing provocative selfies on social media as well as the countless cases of “honour killings” that occur across the globe.

But not all women subjected to this treatment are afraid to speak out. Ghadeer Ahmed, when aged 18 years old, sent her then-boyfriend a video of herself dancing in a revealing dress. After their relationship ended, to take revenge, her boyfriend posted the video to YouTube. Braver than most, Ghadeer took legal action and got him convicted for defamation. She has faced repeated attacks on social media from men posting links to the video that is still available on YouTube. In order to reclaim control over the situation, Ghadeer decided to post the video on her own Facebook page calling out body shamers and men who watched and shared the video, whilst offering religious admonishment.

As Muslims, we are expected to protect our lineage and reputation as much as possible but, then again, we all make mistakes. When did it become acceptable to publicise something so intensely private—especially in a culture that places so much importance on modesty? I’m sure a lot of older readers secretly breathe a sigh of relief that smartphones weren’t around to record some of their ill-advised decisions during their younger days.

In many cases, women would rather endure blackmail than have an indecent image/video of themselves in the public sphere. tweet

And when you look to the Quran for inspiration, it’s hard to not mention the story of Prophet Yousuf. A woman who felt so much overwhelming desire for Yousuf, who effectively tried to rape a Prophet of God, has been kept anonymous for centuries.
We can’t turn a blind eye to the more sinister dimension to revenge porn that intersects with the growing misogyny in Muslim communities. It is interesting that, when one of Mirza’s victims questioned why he was doing this, he answered: “These things are to keep women like you on a straight path. I can send it to anybody, to your family members, if you don’t comply with my demands.”

Although it is despicable that he would associate “punishing” women for a religious transgression he himself engaged in, with the Islamic concept of the “straight path,” i.e. the religiously correct way of life, it is not an entirely unknown association. The well-known fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood was originally written to warn wayward women of the dangers of “straying from the path” and there are many other examples of women being punished for sexual transgression in history and literature.

Today, it is crucial for women to realise how easily intimate images they share of themselves can be used as weapons against them. The existence of revenge porn is so rampant that many countries have started actively educating young women of the dangers. Palestine and Saudi Arabia have created special policing/cybercrime units in order to catch blackmailers, as well as support women who have been threatened. This, in itself, is a positive step. But so much more is needed.

When did it become acceptable to publicise something so intensely private—especially in a culture that places so much importance on modesty? tweet

Revenge porn and blackmail have added a new facet to rape culture and provided perpetrators with a whole new way of silencing their victims. This highlights how, now more than ever, the relationship between genders needs a complete overhaul. If we don’t start thinking about how men are raised to view women and, more importantly, how women are encouraged to view themselves, we can only expect the exploitation and abuse of women to increase alongside the development of technology.

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