What is eWhoring? How stolen nudes are being sold online

Jennifer Savin
·6 min read
Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Jess Davies had known for a while that photographs she'd taken during her former glamour modelling days were being used to catfish people. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people. While working as a model during the Zoo and FHM glory days, Jess was encouraged by her manager to set up her own website and share more personal looking images on it – think: bedroom underwear shots and smiley selfies, rather than polished studio set-ups.

In those earlier days of the internet (in a time before Instagram and dating apps had really taken off), little thought was given to where those images could end up, or the way they may be used, later down the line. It's largely those pictures from Jess's old website that are still being abused today, over a decade later, along with any newer photos that she posts on her social media accounts (including shots of her with friends and family).

Yet, having now spent years discovering and reporting countless Tinder/Instagram/you name it profiles baring her face and body (created by scammers to try and extract everything from money to attention from unsuspecting victims), Jess learnt that the way in which her images were being abused had shockingly evolved. While filming her brilliant new BBC documentary, When Nudes Are Stolen, a private investigator unearthed that Jess is also a victim of eWhoring.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

What is eWhoring?

"eWhoring is an online fraud scam which, like catfishing, is hard to police," Jess explains to Cosmopolitan. "It's a sub-culture where women's photographs, predominately nudes, are either stolen or leaked online, then packaged up and traded or sold on forums." She adds that the intent is to either sell the images to make money, or to impersonate the women in the images [usually on websites offering sexual services, such as escorting or web cam chats].

"It's almost like a hybrid of revenge porn mixed with catfishing," Jess says. "And it's not just me it's happening to either, it's happening thousands of women every single day, all around the world. They're being traded like a card game, either for new packs, or money." It's believed eWhoring traders can make hundreds of pounds a week, depending on how many packs they have to hustle with and how many people they target.

Hearing about this newer method of image based abuse, Jess says, has had a serious impact on her mental health and ability to trust when it comes to meeting new people. "Everytime I meet someone, the first thing I think of is whether or not they've seen my images," she shares, explaining that eWhoring perpetrators don't necessarily look the way you might expect them to either.

In her documentary, Jess meets a former stolen nudes trader, Aku, who claims to have made around £500 a week from being an eWhorer. Quite shockingly, he's a highly personable young rapper. "Beforehand, you have this stereotypical idea of the people that do it, that it's people sat in their basement, but actually he was a young guy," says Jess. "He was pretty normal and quite likeable. Chatting to him made me think 'Gosh, I guess that's the worst thing about it, it could literally be anyone that's making money from eWhoring it', you know?"

She adds that often eWhoring traders have a similar attitude to Aku, which is that if a woman has taken nude images of herself, then she should expect that she may well end up a victim of an image-based abuse cybercrime one day.

It's a point that clearly glosses over the fact that if you agree to take an image for one specific purpose (e.g. a personal subscription website in Jess's case, or, say, to share with an partner), having that photograph later sold on for profit entirely goes against what the victim has consented to. "It's a big problem for people who use OnlyFans as a source of income too," Jess adds. "People are taking their paid for content and selling on, or trading it, in these trading packs online."

The forums in which the sales take place, while semi-underground, are still relatively easy to find, she explains. "You can even post a picture in them and ask 'Has anyone got more images of this girl?' or 'Does anyone know who this girl is?'." Perfectly highlighting the extent of the eWhoring problem, when Jess shared one of her own images on a forum, while posing as a male user, and asked if anybody could provide more details and photos, within minutes she was offered a pack of herself for the price of a $15 (£11) Amazon gift card.

"It just confirmed how widespread my images must be on these kind of forums and what they've been used for," Jess says sadly. "That someone recognised a picture of me from nearly ten years ago, from being in this pack, and had it on hand to sell pretty much instantly."

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Policing this crime is difficult too, she adds, explaining that eWhore traders might use different names and they'll manipulate images, by flipping them or adding a filter, so that they won't show up during a reverse Google Image search. "They make it really difficult to actually find out if your images have been sold in packs," Jess says, but adds that she's hopeful for change.

"The more things like cat-fishing, image based abuse and e-whoring is spoken about, the less shame victims will feel and the more likely they are to report what's going on," she shares. "It's hard work to stop carrying that shame around but none of it is your fault. Even if you consensually uploaded a nude image to a subscriptions site, that is how far your consent went. You didn't agree for it to go any further, so you shouldn't have to carry that shame around."

Jess is now passionate about encouraging others to share their stories. "From the scale I've seen, this is hundreds of thousands of images that are being traded. It's awful, but if it's happening to you, you're not alone and you shouldn't be made to feel that way."

For more information, help or support regarding stolen or misused images, you can contact the Revenge Porn Helpline here.

When Nudes Are Stolen is on iPlayer now. It will also air on BBC One tonight (7 April) at 10.45pm.

Cosmopolitan UK's current issue is out now and you can SUBSCRIBE HERE.

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