Teenage girls traumatised by revenge-porn network aimed at ‘teaching us a lesson’

By Liam Mannix and Caroline Zielinski
The Sydney Morning Herald
April 19, 2016
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Image after naked image: Cat did not expect it to be this bad. It made her skin crawl.

Some were images from Snapchat. Some were stolen. Some were videos taken, selfie-style, mid-sex-act, by males.

“Like this post if you have fu–ed … Libby????? Just to get a rough idea of numbers,” read one.

Cat, 18, had snuck into Melbourne’s secret network of revenge porn Facebook pages.

The pages are secure and hard to access and exist to share naked images and videos of Melbourne girls, some under-age, without their consent.

Jess Treloar-Walker, also 18, had it worse. Nude photos of her were on the page.

“He pretty much just said that I deserved to be exposed. It’s their way of getting back at us,” she said.

“I was so confused, I hadn’t done anything wrong by him. It was so disgusting, I was so angry.”

Another photo, said Jess, showed an online conversation between her and a supposed friend.

“He posted it in the group,” Jess said.

“He was promoting me as some sort of toy.

“He said if you give me money I can get you in with her.”

Fairfax Media has been given a harrowing cache of illegal images and videos from a Facebook group called Melbourne’s Men’s Society. Many of the images appear to be of under-age women.

“They are teaching girls a lesson for, I don’t know, for sending them the images,” Cat said.

Melbourne’s Men’s Society was shut down by Facebook on Friday. But it is said to be only an imitator compared with another group known as Melbourne Blokes Trade, which has been operating for some time.

Melbourne’s Men’s Society had 7000 members, with another 4500 awaiting approval.

The group is hidden on Facebook, and people cannot apply to join it – its adminstrators choose members based on recommendations for induction.

The groups sit at the centre of a galaxy of “lads’ groups”, which contain low-level profanity and soft-core pornography.

A large proportion of the membership of the groups spend their time begging for entry into Melbourne’s Men’s Society and Melbourne Blokes Trade.

On Saturday, after being alerted by Fairfax, Facebook investigated Melbourne Blokes Trade’s content and ruled the page wasn’t breaching any of its community guidelines.

The root of the problem, says media and gender expert Dr Lauren Rosewarne, is that male sexual behaviour is treated very differently to female sexual behaviour.

“Men and women are both in [revenge porn] videos, but it only functions as revenge [against] women, because we are a culture that judges a woman’s sexual activity in ways we don’t judge a man’s,” she said.

She likened the Melbourne’s Men’s Society Facebook page as homage to the male ego, fuelled by a dangerous pack mentality.

The administrators

Melbourne’s Men’s Society’s three administrators all attended St Peters College in Cranbourne, a co-educational Catholic school.

It’s probable they all met there, and maintained contact as they went their separate ways.

Before Melbourne’s Men’s Society was shut down, one of the administrators, Kailum Newland, posted: “Everyone asking, police have shut us down, we will be back! ‪#‎standbymms ‪#‎fkmgp”.

Over email he told Fairfax that he had not posted any of the images himself, and that the group had got out of hand.

“Our intention of the group was to build a brotherly bond in Melbourne! Not to create an under-age pornography folder for a bunch of 15-18 year old males,” he wrote.

“In some cases I feel bad but you have to understand at least half of these girls have sent pictures to guys asking them to post it, I have no idea why, you’d have to ask them!”

Whose fault is this?

After Melbourne’s Men’s Society was shut down, a dozen or more replacement groups were immediately set up by members, showing the difficulty of stamping out a network that can move and morph with ease.

Does Facebook bear some responsibility? Several people with knowledge of the Melbourne’s Men’s Society and related groups spoke to Fairfax and confirmed they had reported the page multiple times, and every time Facebook took no action.

“I had to report heaps of things on MMS. And at first Facebook said that there wasn’t anything on the page that breaches their rules,” one man told Fairfax.

Buzzfeed uncovered a post on the Melbourne’s Men’s Society’s page showing Facebook looked at the group and “found it did not violate our Community Standards”.

A Facebook spokesman denied this and said Buzzfeed was wrong.

“We have removed this group, and have taken steps to help stop similar groups reforming, and help prevent this abhorrent activity,” the Facebook spokesman said.

Meanwhile, there are reports police in Victoria were contacted about the Melbourne’s Men’s Society but said there was nothing they could do.

That  response did not surprise La Trobe University’s Dr Nicola Henry.

“If there is a report to police, and they are not pursuing charges using those new criminal charges, that’s a big issue right at the coalface of law enforcement,” she said.

“There needs to be more training for police in terms of being able to respond to these complaints, because they do cause harm to victims.”

A Victoria Police spokesman said a person found guilty of revenge-porn type posts faced up to 10 years in jail.

Offences were typically prosecuted at a local police station level, and victims should get in touch with their local station, he said.