20 April 2021

Ashamed of shaming? Stories of managing, deflecting, and acknowledging shame after committing image-based sexual abuse

Cover of First MondayPhD Fellow Sidsel Kirstine Harder has contributed to the journal First Monday with the article 'Ashamed of shaming? Stories of managing, deflecting, and acknowledging shame after committing image-based sexual abuse'.

The article is written in collaboration with Associate Professor Amy Hasinoff from the Department of Communication, University of Colorado, Denver.

While a range of studies examine what drives people to nonconsensually distribute sexual images, there is little research on what they feel after having shamed someone online. Do image-sharers feel any shame themselves?

Using narrative criminology, the authors analyze their statements during police investigations to examine if and how they manage shame. The authors find that many stories about committing image-based sexual abuse deny responsibility, neutralize actions, and deflect blame onto victims.

This supports previous qualitative research that offenders are so absorbed by male bonding and a need to control and objectify women that they are incapable of feeling shame after image-based sexual abuse. However, the authors also find that nearly as many stories about nonconsensual sharing focus on expressing shame for having lost control, admitting to having caused harm, and vowing to lead better lives in the future. These statements describe nonconsensual sexual image sharing as accidental, thoughtless, or impulsive, which supports some previous survey research.

The findings described in the article suggest that Internet researchers studying online abuse might pay greater attention to shame management, including how people blame digital technology for harmful behavior. The authors conclude that restorative justice processes could potentially help people who have committed image-based abuse acknowledge shame and try to repair the harm.

Read the whole paper in First Monday (Open Access), Volume 26, Number 4-5 April 2021.

The paper is included in a special issue of First Monday titled ‘Shame, Shaming and Online Image Sharing’.