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Opinion – sexual assault victims need more digital protection

Reality star Stephen Bear was convicted for acts of revenge porn against ex-girlfriend Georgia Harrison. His case sets a precedent for protecting women in the digital world. 

On 2nd August 2020, reality TV star Stephen Bear and then-girlfriend Georgia Harrison were captured having sex on CCTV cameras in his garden.

Harrison was unaware they were being filmed, and had asked Bear not to share the footage when they discovered it existed.

But Bear did share the footage – both on WhatsApp with immediate friends, and online via the website OnlyFans.

Over two years after the fact, Bear has been found guilty on two counts for ‘disclosing private photographs with intent to cause distress’.

Georgia Harrison waived her right to anonymity in order to speak on her experience in court this week. She appeared to breathe a sigh of relief after the jury unanimously voted to prosecute Bear.

‘I have felt ashamed, hurt, violated, even broken at times but today I stand here feeling empowered’ Harrison told the court.

‘I hope me taking a stand gives other men and women who have fallen victim to revenge porn the courage to seek justice and most importantly show them that they have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of’.

Bear has continued to deny all charges. He arrived at the court in a hired Rolls-Royce with his girlfriend.

His twitter account simultaneously posted a photo of him emerging from the vehicle with the words ‘50% off my adult site for the next 24 hours. Come see why I’m trending’.

Bear’s gross lack of remorse has played out on social media for the past weeks. He spends time asking followers to vote on which suit he should wear to his court appearances, for example.

This behaviour points to an issue at the heart of revenge porn. It is still viewed by perpetrators as a game, a means of boosting ego and gaining internet notoriety.

For a fame-hungry reality star like Bear, it’s hardly surprising that he’d continue to stoop embarrassingly low in pursuit of attention. The fact that he takes joy in entertaining bitter internet trolls and jaded middle-aged men is almost pitiful, if it weren’t for the real damage his actions have caused along the way.

Harrison’s case has ended as best it could – with a guilty verdict, something she says ‘will allow me to put the pain I have suffered in the past and start embracing the future’.

But for millions of revenge porn victims, the damage has already been done. Private footage remains public, and perpetrators often walk free.

By waiving her right to anonymity, Harrison has done important work to break the taboo around revenge porn. Given its grave violation of privacy, and the humiliation it incurs, many who are impacted by these incidents choose to remain silent.

But it’s important that sexual assault victims are protected in the digital space just as they would be in real life.

While revenge porn is a criminal offence, we need to have more conversations around its impact. Bear may be a registered sex offender following his guilty verdict, but it’s likely he’ll retain popularity in some seedy corners of the internet, continue to make money, and walk away relatively scot free.

By supporting public victims like Harrison, perpetrators can be held to account with more veracity. And those whose private images remain online without their consent can start to rebuild their lives.

For those impacted by revenge porn, The Revenge Porn Helpline is an important resource that ensures you don’t feel alone.

Their new platform, also supports adults who are being threatened with the sharing of their private sexual images online.

If you or someone you know has been impacted by revenge porn, you can contact the helpline on 03456000459, or email [email protected].