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Deepfake porn victim tells Radio 4 of “ultimate betrayal and humiliation”

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Deepfake porn victim tells Radio 4 of “ultimate betrayal and humiliation”

The woman tells her story to BBC File on 4…

A woman who was the victim of deepfake porn has told her story to BBC File on 4 for the first time and recalled the horrendous moment she realised the person behind the pornographic images was her best friend – calling it the “ultimate betrayal and humiliation.”

In the episode which will air on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm tonight (Tuesday 2nd April), Jodie (not her real name) said: “I spent years feeling unsafe and questioning those close to me. I’ve cried so much I burst blood vessels in and around my eyes. When I do sleep, I often have nightmares centred on this.”

Alex Woolf pleaded guilty in 2021 to posting dozens of images of multiple women on pornographic websites without their consent. Woolf was given a 20-week prison sentence, suspended for two years and ordered to pay each of his victims £100 in compensation. The Met Police have apologised to Jodie for failings in how they handled the case.

Sharing “deepfake porn” became a criminal offence as part of the Online Safety Bill but it does not criminalise a person who asks others to create them, as Alex Woolf did. In the episode, an expert in image-based sexual abuse has warned of the invisible threat that deepfake pornography poses to women and that gaps in the law do not recognise women’s experiences.

Jodie said: “This is affecting thousands of women and we need to have the proper laws and tools in place to stop people from doing this.”

Jodie met Alex at her youth choir in Cambridge when she was 14 and he was 17 and the two later became very close friends, bonding over their shared love of classical music. Alex Woolf was an award-winning composer and winner of BBC Young Composer of the Year and appeared on Mastermind in 2021.

When she was a teenager, Jodie noticed that her name and photos were being used on dating apps without her consent and were being used to catfish people. Jodie sought comfort from her best friend, Alex Woolf. He became a shoulder to cry on and was the person Jodie went to for support as images of her began to appear online in increasingly more violent and sexual ways.

In 2020, during lockdown, Jodie was alerted by a friend to several Twitter accounts that were posting pictures of her, with captions implying she was a sex worker.  The images had been taken from her private social media account. The Twitter handles posting these images had names like “chief masturbator,” “slut exposer,” and “chief perv.”

Alex Woolf was an award-winning composer and winner of BBC Young Composer of the Year, pictured in a promo for BBC Radio 3

Jodie found that these accounts were also posting images of other women she knew from university, as well as from her hometown of Cambridge and that someone had been submitting photos of her and her friends for 18 months.  Jodie began to contact the other women in the pictures to warn them, including a close friend Daisy (not her real name). Together the friends discovered “countless” Twitter accounts posting their images.

File on 4 has seen dozens of profiles, some with tens of thousands of followers which ask people to submit photos of women they know and post them with sexual questions and captions. Vulnerable and scared, Jodie and Daisy called the police but were told there was nothing they can do and that it was up to Twitter to take the photos down.

The posts stopped for a while but six months later in January 2021, Jodie received an anonymous email from “HRobinisnotok” which read: “I saw this guy was posting pics of you on creepy subreddits. I know this must be really scary.” Jodie clicked on the link and was taken through to Reddit, where a user had posted photos of Jodie and two of her friends, numbering them 1, 2 and 3.

Others online were invited to take part in a game – which of these women would you ****, marry and kill. Beneath the post, 55 people had already commented. Jodie said: “That deep feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had had the year before. Just came back in a way that I didn’t realise was even possible…I resigned myself to the fact that it was very possible this would never end.”

Six weeks later she received another anonymous email from “HRobinisnotok” with a link to a porn website. Clicking through, she found explicit images and a video of what appeared to be her having sex with various men. Jodie’s face had been digitally added onto another woman’s body. The account had asked if other users on the site could make fake pornography of her. In exchange for the fakes, the user offered to share more photos and details about Jodie.

Jodie said: “I was screaming and crying and violently scrolling through my phone to work out what I was reading and what I was looking at. I knew that this could genuinely ruin my life. It was someone having sex with me. But it wasn’t my body. I knew it wasn’t my body, but at a glance. And late at night it could have been.”

Forcing herself to scroll through the porn site, Jodie said she felt her “whole world fall away” when she came across one particular image which she shared only with Woolf and realised he was behind it.

Jodie said: “I re-lived every conversation that we had, where he had comforted me and supported me and been kind to me. It was all a lie. My brother had met him [Alex] a number of times…he thought maybe he was infatuated with me. When he said that my heart sank because I thought, ‘How did I not see this? I just felt…the most enormous sense of betrayal and humiliation. He knew the impact that it was having on my life so profoundly. And yet he still did it.”

Jodie reported the images to the City of London police who told her they didn’t believe a crime had been committed. She tried again with the Metropolitan Police and, along with help from some of the other women in the photos, she provided them with a 60-page document of the photographs and emails.

The police told her that “someone” had been arrested but would not confirm it was Woolf. When his identity was confirmed, Jodie says that police didn’t tell her what Woolf had confessed to, or when he would be in court. She only found this out by ringing around magistrates courts in London and Cambridge herself. After the BBC began making enquiries, it became clear that the Metropolitan police had not contacted all of the women Jodie had made them aware of to let them know that their photos had been taken by Woolf and shared online.

Initially, the police were ‘useless’ saying no crime had been committed

A senior police officer, apologised and offered to meet Jodie. At this meeting she was told that the anonymous email from “HRobinisnotok” was, in fact, from Woolf himself.  Later the police changed their minds and said they didn’t know if Woolf was the anonymous emailer. File on 4 asked the Met why they’d given Jodie such conflicting information and about the other failings she’d raised.

They said they had now contacted the other two women to apologise and that they regretted the mistake where they told Jodie Alex had sent those emails and understood the impact this error had on her. The detective also commended Jodie’s bravery in coming forward.

The City of London police who dismissed Jodie’s case tell us they’re sorry for any distress caused by their response and that they will conduct a review into what happened.

File on 4 contacted Alex Woolf who provided the following statement: “I am utterly ashamed of the behaviour which led to my conviction. I think about the suffering I caused every day, and have no doubt that I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. There are no excuses for what I did, nor can I adequately explain why I acted on these impulses so despicably at that time. Please know that I write with a deep and enduring feeling of shame and remorse for my actions and their consequences. I am truly, sincerely sorry.”

He also denied sending the anonymous emails and being behind the catfishing of Jodie. Clare McGlynn, Lawyer and professor at Durham University specialising in image-based sexual abuse has warned that “the rate at which deepfake pornography is being generated and shared online is rising exponentially, and the threat of deepfake pornography being made, is an invisible threat. This could happen to any one of us at any time.”

She added: “The websites and apps that you use to create deepfake pornography are advertised widely on mainstream sites. Some young children are accessing these apps through Tik Tok. They’re advertised on Twitter. here’s a whole ecosystem here that is encouraging and facilitating the creation and sharing of deepfake pornography. This is not happening on the dark web somewhere. You know, young people and young men are not having to spend much time to find this material. In fact, it’s being advertised to them.”

There remain unanswered questions for Jodie as to why Alex did this to her and the 15 other women. She said: “I just hope that this sits with him every single day, and I hope that he now understands the impact that this had on everyone, not just the victims, but their families, their friends, his family and his friends and that the enormity of that plays on his mind every day.”

BBC File on 4, BBC Radio 4, 8pm

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