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Porn and Nudes: Delving into Cyber Exploitation in Sri Lanka

25 February 2021 02:50 am - 20     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  • Offenders publish these posts on the dark web, which is inaccessible to conventional browsers
  • Several older schoolboys have been found offering smartphones to young girls with the promise that they get the phone for free if they provide their nude photos and videos
  • The police sergeant who took down her complaint had found her mobile number from the complaint log and started harassing her by texting messages

 

The images and videos are distressing. Non-consensual sharing of intimate images and privacy breaches began to cause problems several years ago. But, it has never been this bad. Sexual content of Sri Lankan girls, even as young as 15 years old, keeps growing exponentially on the internet, preying on countless victims.


In a disturbing trend, WhatsApp groups, closed Facebook groups, Dropboxes and pornographic websites are devoting themselves to sharing images and videos of Sri Lankan women and girls. These predators have turned the illegal practice into a lucrative business.


“This racket is becoming more and more sophisticated. These predators are generating content, exploiting young Sri Lankans including schoolgirls and boys through an economic module,” said Hans Billimoria, the Director of The Grassrooted Trust - an organization that works on sexual and reproductive health education.


According to the Cyber Crimes Division (CCD) attached to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), criminals are using advanced technologies like encryption to stay ahead of the police. Offenders cover their tracks with the help of virtual private networks, which conceal their locations. They publish these posts on the dark web, which is inaccessible to conventional browsers.


In the meantime, the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing have led to an increase in such cases that are generally identified as cyber exploitation. Information Security Engineer of the Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team (SLCERT), Ravindu Meegasmulla said the problem had always been there, but the pandemic made it more apparent, and an easier place for predatory sexual exploitation.


In an interview with Daily Mirror, a victim described in heart-wrenching detail how her life had been upended by one intimate photograph. She had sent it to her ex-boyfriend but after the breakup, he blackmailed her and later published it on a pornographic website. “I don’t really know if someone out there still has my photo. I live in fear of being recognized from the photo and being humiliated again,” said the woman who, at age 19, had become a victim.


Databases of girls’ naked content categorized by schools and price lists advertising body parts

In most cases, the person distributing the pornographic images or videos is a former partner, but it can also occur when hackers break into victims’ technical devices. There are thousands of members in these disturbing networks. Hans Billimoria who has investigated Sri Lanka’s nude culture for several years said, the entire racket of non-consensual sharing is organized and capitalized by perpetrators who distribute the content to groups of paying customers.

“There are databases of naked pictures and videos of young Sri Lankan women and girls categorized under names, schools, description of the picture and/or video. We have also come across price lists advertising body parts.”

Hans Billimoria


During his awareness programmes and projects carried out throughout the country, Hans has come across perpetrators who have taken this racket to extreme levels. In order to expand the circle of networks, the perpetrators approach young men in relationships with requests for naked pictures of their girlfriends, with the promise of free access to the entire database as a contributor.

In another worst case scenario, several older schoolboys have been found offering smartphones to young girls with the promise that they get the phone for free if they provide their nude photos and videos. “They tell the girls that they don’t have to show their face. Some schoolgirls are known to do it for the pocket money.”


Hans, penning a piece on Bakamoono.lk, had shared another extreme incident he came across in 2018. “A 14-year-old boy chatting with what he thought was a young girl online, sent her a nude photo on the understanding she would reciprocate. What followed was the demand for a nude picture of his sister. If not, the perpetrator threatened to make his nude go viral. Petrified, he managed to capture his sister in her bra and sent this on in the hope of ending his torment. The perpetrator contacted the sister claiming to have her nude picture, courtesy of her brother, and demanded for more.”


Many pornographic websites contain exclusive Sri Lankan content, the majority being filmed within relationships. Girls as young as 15 years old, appear in some videos, pleading with their partners not to record their intimate moments. Some are recorded inside three-wheelers on the side of a byroad. 


Hans is of the view that Sri Lankans have to stop pretending that in our culture these practices are not happening. “This is not an issue in Colombo. Wherever there is a smartphone with a camera and internet, this happens and will happen.”

 

Undertrained law enforcement agencies are not helping victims

It goes without saying that the lack of a strong support mechanism is one of the main causes of this pandemic. It causes the victim’s hesitation to report the crime. At the same time, Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies devoted to the problem, being understaffed or undertrained, is also not a surprising fact.


A 27-year-old girl who had gone to a police station to report a cyber-exploitation incident had to face another type of harassment again from the police. She spoke to the Daily Mirror on the condition of anonymity. Sharing her unpleasant experience, she said the police sergeant who took down her complaint had found her mobile number from the complaint log and started harassing her by texting messages.


“I answered the first call thinking it is an update of my complaint. Then, he made multiple calls and tried to add me on Facebook. After this incident, one of my male friends pretended to be my boyfriend and escorted me to the police station. We managed to stop him harassing me.”


With the purpose of strengthening the response mechanism on the ground, Women In Need and The Grassrooted Trust worked closely with Sri Lanka Police Women and Children’s Bureau and the CID Cyber Crime Division to develop – Standard Operating Procedure for The Sri Lanka Police. The guide outlines existing laws and also focuses on the sensitivity required when recording complaints on cyber harassment.


“Sri Lankan does have laws to combat cyber exploitation. With the majority of victims and survivors being women and girls, the role played by the Police Women and Children’s Bureau is vital. That is why we are trying to train them so that officers in Women and Children’s Bureau in every police station in the country will be able to handle the cases properly,” Hans explained.

 

Shame associated with a naked body and sex education

According to UNICEF’s 2018 Report ‘Keeping Children Safe and Empowered Online’, 52.8 percent of young people in Sri Lanka access the internet – with the average age of first access being 13 years. This online proliferation does come with increased risk.


As always, every social problem in Sri Lanka is rooted in the lack of a strong and more inclusive education system, the cyber exploitation matter too is no different. Deemed as massively inappropriate, Sri Lanka’s cultural norms and values teach that sex should never be talked about. Talking about it and writing about it, are still associated with shame.


“Demonizing social media is not a realistic approach. Teach your children what can potentially happen to intimate pictures and videos if they send them to others. The shame that we have associated with the naked body has really forced us to not have this conversation. Young people are unable to talk to their parents about these issues.”
“Social media is a reality. At this moment, there is absolutely no preventive education in schools and universities on cyber exploitation. Both rural and urban kids should be provided with preventive education modules by the national institutes of education through textbooks,” said Hans.

 

There are ways to fight back against cyber sexual abuse

Non-consensual pornography is never acceptable, and it is not your fault. You have a right to stop the abuse and hold the person who shared images without your consent accountable

The violation is not sending these photographs to their partners, the violation is publishing it without consent and blackmailing

Tarangee Mutucumarana

 

Attorney-at-law Tarangee Mutucumarana, Director of the Yeheliya Foundation said everyone has the right to expect private images to remain private. “Non-consensual pornography is never acceptable, and it is not your fault. You have a right to stop the abuse and hold the person who shared images without your consent accountable.”
She said the more the victims and survivors remained silent, the more the perpetrators will think their behavior is tolerated. “The violation is not sending these photographs to their partners, the violation is publishing it without consent and blackmailing. We need to encourage people to come forward and seek justice,” Tarangee said.

 

Consequences of cyber exploitation are as severe as physical sexual harassment

It can be speculated that the doer may be attempting to: 1) Seek a misperceived sense of justice or redemption; 2) Intentionally harm current/potential relationships of the victim; 3) Socially degrade the partner; e) Establish dominance and 5) Exhibit entitlement, are a few to be named

Raneesha de Silva
 

As it is one of the highest forms of violation in terms of trust and personal relationships, these unpleasant incidents can leave victims with lasting psychological scars, says forensic psychologist Raneesha de Silva.


Explaining the mentality of former intimate partners who choose to do such acts, she said that many dysfunctional personality traits (e.g., lack of empathy/remorse) and existing mental health difficulties (e.g., delusions and/or paranoia) may contribute (or not!) to this act.


It can be speculated that the doer may be attempting to: 1) Seek a misperceived sense of justice or redemption; 2) Intentionally harm current/potential relationships of the victim; 3) Socially degrade the partner; e) Establish dominance and 5) Exhibit entitlement, are a few to be named.


“Whether it is a calculated or impulsive action, no civil society can nor should justify such acts”.


 

HOW TO REPORT CASES OF CYBER EXPLOITATION AND VIOLENCE

  1. If the victimized person is over 18, you may contact the CID Cyber Crime Unit directly on 011 232 6979 and email details of the incident to BOTH and,
  2. If the victimized person is below 18, approach the National Child Protection Authority on 1929 and request support from their cybercrime surveillance unit.
  3. You can also inform Sri Lanka CERT on 011 2 691 692 but depending on the nature of the case, SLCERT may redirect you to the CID or NCPA accordingly. 
  4. If you do not receive the support you need and/or anticipated, get in touch with Women in Need on 077 5676 555 to report the incident. If you would like to further discuss your case reach out to The Grassrooted Trust.

 

 

Although the viewing of and distribution of pornography in Sri Lanka is still against the law, pornography sites have exclusive Sri Lankan content. They include non-consensually published content and consensual home-made videos through which the 'producers' or 'contributors' are making money. Above is a screenshot of an income-generating profile of a popular porn site.

 


 

 

 
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  Comments - 20

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  • Piyumi Fonseka Thursday, 25 February 2021 08:40 AM

    Any victims or survivors reading this article, you are not alone. You can share your story with Daily Mirror and help us make more people aware of this vicious cycle. We assure to take your privacy seriously. If you like to share your experience, reach out to me @piyumifonseka123@gmail.com. Thanks

    Kingsley Wijesinhe Thursday, 25 February 2021 09:10 AM

    Not trying to condone this nasty business, but this is what comes of too much freedom. In the old days, parents were very strict with their daughters, and girls also accepted that. Now it is not so. They do what they want and this is one of the consequences.

    M Fernando Friday, 26 February 2021 01:52 AM

    Rubbish. Why are you only focusing on "daughters" ? Are not "sons" also responsible ? Or like the stray dog, you let the sons wander around unfettered and blame the b..ch that gets pregnant ?? It's because of our British-imposed Victorian attitude (the "cheee" factor) toward sex, relationships and healthy attitude toward opposite gender. Even the Brits discarded this stupid attitude years ago and we are still hanging onto two-century old morality

    Thisari Walawege Thursday, 25 February 2021 11:29 AM

    This is why parents shouldn't just focus on bringing up your daughters right. It is important to educate your son on right and wrong as well. Well desciplined girls can never be safe in a world filled with ill mannered boys. So I urge perents, don't just advise your daughter, educate your son as well.

    M Fernando Friday, 26 February 2021 01:53 AM

    Absolutely right !!

    Jeeves Thursday, 25 February 2021 11:52 AM

    Awareness of this type of exploitation needs to be highlighted at schools by a suitably qualified small group of people visiting schools.

    Farook Mohamed Thursday, 25 February 2021 11:54 AM

    Parents

    Leo Thursday, 25 February 2021 12:16 PM

    As the article rightly points out, it's the parents who feel shame to discuss this issue with their Children, that leave the child helpless as no proper person to educate them. This is the 21st century, talk to your children and educate them before it's too late.

    P TILAK Thursday, 25 February 2021 03:50 PM

    There must be a SEPERATE police unit to handle this heinous crime, They must be chased , caught , tried in courts ( a SEPERATE courts is ideal) ,once convicted there must be attempts at rehabilitating them, failing which , they should be sentenced to long ( minimum 20 years ) rigerous imprisonment.. SO THAT IT WILL BE A LESSON FOR THOSE WHO CONTEMPLATE DOING THIS CRIME. AND THERE MUST BE A SEPERATE UNIT TO LOOK AFTER THE VICTIMS, MONITORING AND TREATING , THEY AND THEIR FAMILIES.

    P TILAK Thursday, 25 February 2021 03:50 PM

    There must be a SEPERATE police unit to handle this heinous crime, They must be chased , caught , tried in courts ( a SEPERATE courts is ideal) ,once convicted there must be attempts at rehabilitating them, failing which , they should be sentenced to long ( minimum 20 years ) rigerous imprisonment.. SO THAT IT WILL BE A LESSON FOR THOSE WHO CONTEMPLATE DOING THIS CRIME. AND THERE MUST BE A SEPERATE UNIT TO LOOK AFTER THE VICTIMS, MONITORING AND TREATING , THEY AND THEIR FAMILIES.

    Kandy Thursday, 25 February 2021 04:53 PM

    The inability to punish children, specially at school, is one contributory factor for the ill mannered growing up of the children of present day. In good old days, there was public canning in schools, which prevented the children from doing any wrong however small for the fear

    Mubarak, Mohammed Thursday, 25 February 2021 05:16 PM

    As the article rightly points out, it's the parents who feel shame to discuss this issue with their Children, that leave the child helpless as no proper person to educate them. This is the 21st century, talk to your children and educate them before it's too late. thanks Leo, important advise. i would like to add that recently i heard a monk speaking in the parliament that when a girl reaches the age of marriage she doesn't require parents consent which is against country's moral system. this will certainly lead to moral degradation amongst the future generation. A point to note and not to allow such system to administer.

    Umar Perera Thursday, 25 February 2021 06:33 PM

    Social media is in the public domain. If you choose to post nudes of yourself in this domain then why don't you walk nude on the street too? There are consequences for every action. Wake up! Take responsibility for your actions.

    Shabbir Friday, 26 February 2021 02:20 PM

    This is not just in Sri Lanka, and not just dark web crimes but is the result of nwo which is to degrade humanity so it will be easy to conquer, softens up the nation state before brutal onslaught on them Internet, movies, songs, video games, pop culture, gypsy culture and such are all a part of that wider agenda behind this feminism, me too, my body campaigns. We can't just deal the issue without addressing the root causes behind it. Best way to deal with this is strict punishment and also to be going back adopting our old lifestyle and habits.

    Mandayan Friday, 26 February 2021 04:32 PM

    In the UK, police charged a girl for transferring an image of herself via internet to her boy friend on his mother’s complaint.

    Kingsley Wijesinhe Saturday, 27 February 2021 06:12 PM

    Ah, M. Fernando and Thisari Walawege are concerned about gender equality! That's not the issue here. The article is about girls who send nude photos of themselves to their boy friends and others. If they don't do that, everything else that follows can't happen.

    Nuwan Sunday, 07 March 2021 08:17 AM

    I have only one question, “Why Do Some Girls Send Naked Pictures of Themselves to Their Boy Friends and Others They Like “ ?. This behaviour itself is not normal.

    Senaka Monday, 08 March 2021 12:12 PM

    Now the parents don't have time to look after their children. They are busy going after money in this vicious cycle. We earn money at the same time we lose so many things. One is our precious children.

    Da Silva Monday, 08 March 2021 12:57 PM

    What you expect from 3rd world country and citizens.

    Muslim Thursday, 18 March 2021 07:52 AM

    Faith in religion will put a end to this.. There are religions which doesn't comment on how to dress cloths.. And for eg the Bible has been re written many times to suit the 2020's


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