The 'Badass Army' is Training Revenge Porn Victims to Fight Back

Whether it’s taking down revenge porn images, identifying offenders, or protecting online accounts, the Badass Army is giving revenge porn victims tools they need.

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Mar 14 2018, 12:00pm

Image: Shutterstock

Revenge porn is typically a one-sided fight. Often anonymously, and with relative impunity, offenders are able to upload intimate images of others while dodging prosecution or perhaps any sort of recourse.

An activist group called the Badass Army, made up of hundreds of revenge porn victims, is changing that. After one victim decided to offer support for others last year, Badass has quickly grown and now teaches members how to lock down their online accounts, send legal orders to remove photos, and is even flooding revenge porn forums with a flurry of innocuous images to make non-consensual pictures harder to view.

“It’s giving people that don’t have technical skills previously the ability to do something, and that feels good,” Katelyn Bowden, the creator of Badass, or Battling Against Demeaning & Abusive Selfie Sharing, told Motherboard in a phone call.

In April 2017, Bowden found intimate photos of herself on Anon-IB, a notorious site that lets people trade and collect revenge porn images. She didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t just pictures of her though: Anon-IB has highly localized sections and threads dedicated to, say, a state, a city, or maybe a college.

“I saw, in my own thread, five or six girls I know,” Bowden, a former bartender and currently stay-at-home-mom, said.

Fortunately, Bowden had a friend who worked in IT who helped her get the images removed. Some victims, if they find out how, can use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to demand websites pull down pictures.

But as is often the case with revenge porn, the pictures came back, and again Bowden saw images of more women she knew. This time, though, she contacted the other victims—if more women started hearing about this and communicating, surely they could find some more ways to fight back. The project snowballed from a handful of women, then up to fifty when Badass officially launched in August.

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One of those earlier victims was Rachel, who asked only her first name be used for this article. In November Bowden told Rachel her pictures were being shared on the gaming-chat platform Discord, which has faced a wave of Anon-IB members using its service to trade images. This news wasn’t groundbreaking to Rachel; she has been dealing on-and-off with the pictures being traded for several years.

“But Katelyn’s message was different. She was the first person in all those years to say ‘Hey, here’s what’s happening to you and here’s what you can do about it.’," Rachel told Motherboard in an email.

Much of the group’s education efforts go on digital security; stuff like better passwords, not storing images in iCloud where a third party may be able to access them, or setting up ‘burner’ Facebook accounts, Bowden said. Another side is campaigning for more legislation banning revenge porn, and streamlining the legal process for victims to get images removed.

“We teach them everything that the lawyers will charge you $500 to do,” Bowden said. Some lawyers have also agreed to file cases on Badass members’ behalf, and only charge if they are successful.

Other Badass campaigns include logging onto Anon-IB and uploading picture after picture of cartoon characters, meaning that explicit images get pushed further down the page.

“Im just gonna bump this because of the shrek raid,” one Anon-IB user wrote last week, after Badass swamped the image board with pictures of Shrek.

"She was the first person in all those years to say ‘Hey, here’s what’s happening to you and here’s what you can do about it.’"

Badass also finds ways to identify the people uploading revenge porn, including with so-called grabbers, tools that can reveal someone’s IP address. Bowden said she has unmasked around 150 people. Sometimes the group may pass details to law enforcement or use the information for legal cases. Most of the time, these sort of people go on a list.

“We would eventually like to release the list somehow; we‘re still figuring out how we can do that without creating vigilantism and chaos,” Bowden said. Security analyst Einar Otto Stangvik, who previously provided this reporter with a list of Anon-IB user IP addresses, has helped the group identify offenders.

Kelsey Bressler, a member and web developer for Badass told Motherboard in an email, “From the moment I first learned my photos were online, I was angry and wanted to fight back. I knew I wanted to help others in my position but I didn’t know how. Badass allows me to channel that anger into fighting for justice and helping other victims.”

“My pics are offline and my abuser will be going to jail,” she added.