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Sri Lanka’s Nude Culture Revisited: Responding to Homemade Porn

18 July 2018 Posted by No Comment

Wednesday, 18th July 2018

By Hans Billimoria

In December 2017, a school boy tipped us off about a Sri Lankan porn site that included three of his friends. Three girls.  His plea – please take down this site. When we checked, the TRC had previously blocked this site but it had opened up seamlessly under a new URL. Subsequently this site has continued to change its URL regularly, making sure that visitors and subscribers have uninterrupted access to Sri Lankan content which is archived monthly. Regardless of the failed blocking attempts by the TRC, we reported this page to the CID cyber crime division, and also alerted the Attorney General’s office. The site remains active eight months later. The June 2018 archive is now up.

Our own investigation into its origins showed that this site is registered in Europe, with a London phone number. We knew this by early January 2018. As our investigator reported –

“Based on the above registration details, the site has been registered/ hosted via a server in Paris, France called [server name] by hiding the details; which can be only obtained legally.  The domain used to register the site in France belongs to the Govt. of Micronesia”

During this process our investigator also identified another site, larger and more sophisticated than the one we asked him about.

“The latest site… seems to be more active. Very sophisticated with SMS based registration and content broadcasted back to the registered Mobile via SMS. Based on the above registration details, the site has been registered via a server in the US called [domain name] by hiding the details and showing Panamanian details. It is hosted on a Singaporean based server which can be only obtained legally.  The domain used to register the site belongs to the Govt. of Montenegro.

Our investigator also indicated that there are corresponding facebook pages which aggressively solicit content with “followers who mainly contact via direct private messaging using fake profiles.” All this information was handed over to the CID Cyber Crime division in January, and forwarded to our contacts at the Attorney General’s office.  As we’re purportedly signatories to the Budapest Convention on Cyber Crime, tracking down these perpetrators is not impossible. Yet, they all appear to have more pressing priorities.

This apathy and inaction is not new. When we approached the Ministry of Law and Order in August last year, the then Minister convened a meeting with all key stakeholders, where everyone, including TELCO representatives  agreed to help, and the National Centre for Cyber Security – CERT, The National Child Protection Authrotiy – NCPA  and the CID assured him that a robust response mechanism is in place.  Last week, a single mother whose profile has been maliciously posted on a site that solicits sex, was inundated with phone calls and texts. She contacted CERT.

“I tried calling Sri Lanka CERT on the three contact numbers provided in their website between 5.53pm and 5.55pm . Whilst the first two numbers 269 1692 and 269 5749 did not work, the number 267 9888 rang without being answered. I also called the CID on 0112325135 at 6.55pm and 7.36pm but it only rang without being answered. People I did not know continued to call but mostly message me on whatsapp (as asked by the post) and I continued to ask them to report the post as fake. Today (12 July 2018) I called SL CERT at 8.36am on 2692692 which was still not working and then 2679888 which was answered. I inquired as to how I could make a complaint regards this situation and was told by the person on the other side that “we don’t take complaints. You should call the CID or the police”. I asked once again if they did not take complaints and they said no.”

This is confusing and frustrating for the victim. For example, the information we have on our bakamoono.lk site includes CERT contact details, as part of the existing response mechanism, of which they are clearly stakeholders. Furthermore, CERT data includes complaints related to social media incidents which have increased exponentially over the last 7 years. In June this year CERT even gave us an indicator of how many cases so far in 2018.

And these incidents are not limited to fake accounts on facebook, despite the repeated conflation of facebook and other social media platforms. They include porn related complaints. It appears that we still don’t have the language or the skills to deal with victims in a manner that makes either the victim or the person taking down the complaint, comfortable.

“These pictures are not as straightforward as child pornography.” This was shared with me by a nameless government official who was doing his best to help us understand the difference. Child pornography is palpably evil. We agree. Women and girls in these videos and photographs are often perceived as willing participants. We disagree. They’re willing participants with the understanding that only their lover will view the content. Remember Sanath’s video? That wasn’t made for public consumption. How many of us violated their consent by watching it? People are not fair game because they’ve chosen to make a video or take an intimate photograph. In Sri Lanka, our fallback position of asking for it underpins our collective lack of empathy. We don’t seem to care that most of the women and girls (and some men) on these Sri Lankan porn sites had no intention of helping us ejaculate. They did not consent to be homemade porn stars. They consented instead to share photographs or participate in videos with partners they trusted.

Violating consent, trust and love are not the only reasons for videos and photographs leaking. In Vavuniya, the owner of a phone repair shop spoke of how it is now standard to run data retrieval software to see what deleted pictures and videos can be salvaged.  Phone/communication shops are also happy to rent smart phones to young people at an hourly rate, always checking to see what has been photographed, filmed, and deleted. It’s not easy to hide a smart phone from an overcautious parent, but a SIM card is much easier to secret away.

Once the perpetrator has your picture or video, regardless of the manner in which they obtained it, intimidation and blackmail most often follow. We are no longer a nation that celebrates nudity as beauty, like we did at Sigiriya. Nudity is now inextricably linked with shame. We all know this, suicides have occurred in Batticoloa because of this, and the perpetrators use shame very effectively to generate more content for their porn sites.

In June 2018, a 14 year old boy chatting with what he thought was a young girl online, sent her a nude with 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, courtesy of her brother, and demanded more.

The nude culture we reported on in 2016 is now most definitely transitioning to a homemade porn culture. At the end of June, BBC reported that that the owner of a revenge porn site in South Korea had been arrested. This made us wonder what it would take to arrest the homemade porn entrepreneurs of Sri Lanka. Those who have convinced lodge owners to affix spy cams in rooms sold by the hour; convinced boys and men to set up spy cams in bathrooms, shower cubicles and outdoor baths, sheltered by cement walls, corrugated iron sheets, or dried coconut and/or Palmyra fronds, but still broadcast her wet soapy nudity to thousands of Sri Lankans, under porn category – Auntila Nanawa.

At the beginning of July, again in South Korea, women marched in protest of spy cam pornography. “My life is not your porn” was the chant. And that’s exactly right. Just because someone consent to express their sexuality by taking intimate nude selfies, or a couple chooses to film themselves having sex, like our world cup winning cricketer, that doesn’t mean you have the right to masturbate to the footage,or share it with your friends on whatsapp for a laugh.

“Those men who film such videos! Those who upload them! Those who watch them! All of them should be punished sternly!”

The South Korean protesters have a point. Except, we’re dealing also with perpetrators as young as 14, those who have been encouraged by older students and/or adults to generate from among their equally young peers. Our perpetrators, like the 14year old who photographed his sister, need an approach that our state still doesn’t seem to have identified or have the finesse to handle. Earlier on in 2015, when state lawyers recommended that we arrest school boy perpetrators and make examples of them, we responded by saying that all school cricket big matches would then have to be played in prison. The sharing and exchanging of nudes was ubiquitous then, and evenmore so now. Telegram, a nostalgically named app, for example, has multiple groups of thousands in Sri Lanka that share and exchange pictures anonymously. These groups operate under the radar, insist on fresh content, and siphon the best to existing porn sites.

The experience of the single mother – who at the time of writing is yet to hear back from the CID Cyber Division – is indicative of the need for a robust response mechanism that takes the victim through his or her options, and doesn’t further re-victimize her. We have been reduced in certain instances to recommending that victims change their phone numbers when sites that solicit refuse to take down personal details. The downside to that approach is that it is most often someone known to the victim that has posted her personal details in the first place, so profiles may re-emerge relatively soon.

Currently, there are multiple interventions underway toward strengthening the national response, and improving prevention programming in schools and with out of school young people. The National Action Plan to address Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Sri Lanka is an example of a far reaching multi-sectoral approach that can have real impact, provided it is done right. But in the meantime what do we do? For example, Women In Need is working with the Police Commission, focusing on Women and Children’s Desks across the country as a first point of contact for CEV. While we wait for much touted legal reform, we need our existing mechanisms to be implemented. Law enforcement officers need to understand that not all facebook and online related crimes of this nature need to be referred to the CID cyber crime unit in Colombo. This bottleneck leads to poor response timelines, and allows online victimization and exploitation to flourish. It also leads to a culture of impunity, where perpetrators fear no repercussions.  We need to ensure a non-judgmental response mechanism where victims feel safe to come forward with their complaint. This will require robust self-examination and honesty on the part of all existing stakeholders, including CID, CERT, and the non-governmental sector, who must necessarily participate in making sure the quickest and most sensible steps are taken on behalf of the victim.

While we wait for education reform, as parents and teachers we must start focusing on the values of respect, self-esteem, empathy and help our children and young people understand consent. We need to begin conversations on the value of being sensible i.e. showing good judgment; thinking through the consequences of our actions, which may include that image they’re about to share, or the text they’re about to type. This approach is not about us preaching so much as listening. It requires a close partnership between parents and teachers, trusted adults, always ensuring that lines of communication between child and adult remain open. 100/100 in mathematics will not keep your child safe from online predators. Discussions at home on our shared values, structured lessons on staying safe online, learning empathy and respect for each other – these will prove the difference.

In Batticoloa, a young boy filmed his parents having sex; they slept in the same room. He shared the video with his friends at school.

It is indeed miles to go before we sleep, but perhaps we can chat to our kids along the way.

Related article – Investigating Sri Lanka’s Nude Culture 

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