A Year in Review, as a Male Survivor of Image Based Sexual Abuse – by David Canham

For many of us 2020 will be far removed from the year that we might have hoped for.

The Covid-19 crisis has unveiled some of the best, and worst aspects of human nature. We’ve seen the number of reported cases of image abuse double, as we’ve taken to our gadgets to seek connections via dating applications, like Scruff, Grindr or Tinder.

We’ve even turned to webcam sites like Zoom, as we’ve searched for virtual sex experiences and sometimes, on the other side of those applications, we’ve had predators who have exploited another unsuspecting victim by sharing their images without their knowledge or consent

Back in 2016 I was one of those unsuspecting victims, lured into a situation where so many aspects of my life were exposed in a heinous criminal act where I was secretly webcam streamed using drugs, and having sex, with the same predator who recorded and uploaded that content. He did so without my permission, and with a blatant disregard for my life and privacy.

The predator responsible for that crime is still free to destroy the life of another individual, and despite being reported to the Police, hasn’t faced any criminal charges or accepted accountability for what happened that night. In short, due to failings within our current legislation, he has suffered no consequence for his actions.

I, on the other hand, like other survivors of these crimes, had to battle through many post traumatic disorders to emerge as a whole human being…. rather than the shadow that this crime had reduced me to.

At the beginning of 2019 I felt stuck with an experience that I could not properly move on from, an experience that caused many emotional and mental health issues that took years to overcome. Feelings of insecurity, isolation and lack of trust. So, I reached out to Folami Prehaye, the founder of VOIC, to help me push through those problems and regain a sense of power over my life once again.

I broke through the chains of shame that had been restricting me from moving forward, by finally addressing my experience through a written piece for the Victims of Internet Crime, newly named Victims of Image Crime  (VOIC) website…and began a journey where I could speak out about image abuse crimes and their effects on LGBTQ online culture.

My journey has felt like a solitary one at times, whilst I’m aware that there are many other male victims of image abuse, I’m currently the only male survivor of these crimes who is publicly speaking out about this issue. Although I hope that where one person leads, others will follow…. given time.

Since writing my story for VOIC, I’ve had time to reflect on the male gender stereotype, and how society generally (despite the many social advancements that we have made across the decades) will still judge a man based on their sexual preference or how resilient they are in terms of coping with an emotional or mental trauma (image related or otherwise).

It’s a sad fact of reality that a male victim, of any abuse related crime, is likely to face public ridicule and I’m under no illusion that the same has happened to me.

Whilst the pain and emotional distress that these crimes inflict on their victims is the same for all genders, we still live in a world where the experience will be devalued for a male experiencer, making it challenging to say the least to reach out for help and support.

I find it an interesting juxtaposition, that for a woman it’s usually a man who will be the predator behind an image abuse crime…. but the same can be said for a gay man.

As we gradually start to see more and more coverage, via emerging research data, we also find that heterosexual men are more likely to find themselves as the victims of sextortion – with the perpetrator being of the female sex. The narrative is exactly the same as it is for a female victim, with a jealous or controlling partner (or ex) who wants to invoke a revengeful act (for whatever pitiful reason over another person’s life).

It’s my hope that once we see the study results from the LGBTQ focused research on Image Abuse, within the LGBTQ community (currently being conducted by the University of Birmingham), we’ll see how these crimes effect Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgender community members. As a community we must be more vocal about websites that sexually exploit us and are potentially as criminal as the predators who set out to inflict intentional hurt and pain through an Image Based Sexual Abuse act.

Whilst I will always speak from the heart of my own experience, I am very much aware that the problem spans so much more than the individual. These are concepts that I might not have fully understood 12 months ago, but I certainly do so now through the progression of time.

We should never be afraid to call out websites such as Male General and Pornhub – who exploit victims and profit from that exploitation. We should not be afraid to creatively and intelligently call out the predators, within the LGBTQ community, who intentionally cause harm and distress to others by sharing and capturing non-consensual images.

But above all there must be no more silence, or pretence that the problem doesn’t…or has never existed. The LGBTQ community, like any other community, has its own problems and failings. But we can improve that narrative through acceptance and learning. History has shown us that the power of the LGBTQ voice is significant and mighty, and this is a subject that we should rightly be vocal about.

I can’t encourage enough discussion about this issue, particularly within a community that I both love and cherish. But discussion is not enough, unless it leads to visible action and the creation of safe spaces where those within the LGBTQ community, who have had the misfortune to be effected by an IBSA crime, can discuss their experience….and most importantly rebuild their lives and lead that life to a fully imagined potential.

Without either fear or judgement.