Hi,

It's been a long time since we've spoken. Not long enough

For someone who was such an insignificant participant in my life, you really left your mark

Hurt, shame, disgust, fear, embarrassment... These are just some of the feelings

We weren't even really a thing, a passing fling that helped me through the loneliness

That picture... that fucking picture.

It wasn't even a serious picture, just me having a laugh as I do

A few drinks in me and you were right next to me

Why the fuck am I even explaining myself to you?

As if it makes any difference whether or not I was actually trying to be sexy

Hurt, shame, disgust, fear, embarrassment...


I didn't even really trust you

That's what angers me most

Why would I let someone I didn't even really know into my life?

We weren't even really a thing, a passing fling that helped me through the loneliness

Hurt, shame, disgust, fear, embarrassment...


I didn't trust you but I wanted someone to trust

I wanted someone to see me for me and be happy with just that

So I let you fill a void for a month or so

Until I realised how overpowering and obsessive you were

Hurt, shame, disgust, fear, embarrassment...

I let you down gently, told you I just wasn't in the right place at that time

You wouldn't take no for an answer

You showed up at my house in the middle of the night

Harassed me, my friends, my family... For what?

We weren't even really a thing, a passing fling that helped me through the loneliness

Hurt, shame, disgust, fear, embarrassment...

You threatened to kill yourself, lied that your dad died, wrote really horrific things about me online

I was close to phoning the police, I was scared of what you would do

And what did you do?

You sent an intimate picture of ME into a group chat with dozens of boys, many of whom I knew

You disgusting piece of shit, I wanted you to die, I wanted to die

Hurt, shame, disgust, fear, embarrassment...

And how did I find out?

Did one of your lovely friends give me a nice little message to give me a heads up?

No.

One of your lovely fucking friends added me in to the group chat

With THAT picture of me as the display picture

Whilst commenting on the shape of my tits, the size of my nipples

Calling me a slut, a slag, a slapper

Hurt, shame, disgust, fear, embarrassment...


What had I done wrong, what had I done to deserve that?

I hadn't been nasty to you, I'd never had any problems with your friends

My crime was not wanting to be with a manipulative, obsessive person

Well I'm not sorry, you should be sorry. All of you should be sorry

Hurt, shame, disgust, fear, embarrassment...

I thought my world was ending, I seriously wanted to die

I thought about how my parents would feel

What my employers would say

My grandparents

How any boy would never want to be with a slut like me again.

Hurt, shame, disgust, fear, embarrassment...

It's been 7 years now,

I'm still scared, I still worry any time I have a disagreement with someone on Twitter that the picture will come out

It's a strange feeling to know that there are people out there who still have this picture

I wish I could do something about it but I can't

If the revenge-porn law had been in place at the time I would've reported it

Hurt, shame, disgust, fear, embarrassment...

My mum still doesn't know what you did, how you made me feel

My boyfriend knows and he loves me regardless,

As he should. I didn't do anything wrong

You did! You changed something in me

I can't fully express myself without fear of the picture coming out

I feel restricted, because of what you did

What if I wanted a job that put me in the public eye? That picture would come out

For someone who was such an insignificant participant in my life, you really left your mark


It's been 7 years now,

Maybe one day I won't even think about it anymore

But for now I still do, most days

To my boyfriend and my friends, it's just a thing that happened a long time ago

To me, it's something that is still happening

If I could speak to myself as someone else I would say

'Do not allow your own body to be used against you as a weapon,

Shame, fear, embarrassment... these are not things you should feel

Those are things that he should feel

You did nothing wrong.'

I can't let you control my life anymore

I am letting it go, this letter is my therapy

My body is not a weapon to be used against me

I am no longer hurting

I am not ashamed

I am disgusted in you, not me

I cannot continue to be scared

You should be embarrassed at your behaviour, not me

- Anonymous

Holding the Internet

Growing up watching films like American Pie, where one of the main protagonists love interests is filmed without consent to a catalogue of male students, we are socialised into the belief that people being recorded without consent is something that would only happen in a coming of age comedy.

However, before the peak of applications such as Snapchat and Instagram, there was a messaging service which allowed you to contact friends, family and your love interests in seconds, with the help of a trusty AOL modem or one of those USBs which magically “held the internet”.

At the age of thirteen, I received my first laptop. I instantly felt like I belonged, when I could be able to message my friends when my parents went to sleep without threat of “I’ll take the plug out the computer” or my brother saying it was his turn to use his account. This was my first bite of freedom, my first ability to talk to people through this magical messaging app using this trusty piece of technology. I am, of course talking about MSN.

I can remember video calling became one of my favourite things to do, I was involved with a lot of online penpal groups where you were able to talk to people overseas (obviously with safety precautions to avoid anyone being strange or too forward.) I also remember the first time I was exposed to the same toxic behaviour shown in my coming of age comedies. But, this wasn’t by someone who was a creepy person from across the country or a middle-aged paedophile. This person was a few years older than me and lived ten minutes down the road.

I was extremely inexperienced and scared of the idea of being intimate or romantic with anyone if I am honest. I didn’t have my first kiss until I was fourteen out of peer pressure by an ex close friend, who would go on to out me for being bisexual and would be responsible for the years of trauma I had to go through (fuck you E*.) I can remember this boy logging on to msn. My safe place. We chatted for a bit before he asked me to take my top off. I thought it was all a joke. So I did. I trusted them. Why wouldn’t I? I fell asleep on the video call. It ended. I thought it would be all fine. I didn’t realise that at that moment, he was recording me. He was sharing this with his friendship group and other people he knew.

This happened as a regular occurrence throughout my teenage years. It wasn’t always being just recorded. It was me sharing intimate photos with someone older than me. Someone I trusted. Who would then use them against me on social media threatening to “leak her nudes” or “want to see some weird looking tits?” I was a young person, I wasn’t fully developed yet. I was still a teenager. I had shared these intimate photos with people who “loved” me. But they didn’t. They just wanted to see some free “tits.”

I didn’t find out about the boy recording me until two years ago. I can remember a mutual friend explaining to me that they’d been there when it was distributed. He still didn’t know where or what had happened to that video. Fuck knows, it could be in the hands of anyone. It could be gone forever. The thing is, that video should not have been recorded. My body is my body to share.

I wouldn’t blame social media or all individuals on the planet who have access to the internet. I do not blame those who work in the sex industry. I do not believe that every person who shares their body openly with the world. I blame the toxic belief that once we are given something, that it belongs to us. The only things that belong to us are our bodies. Those who think that sharing and exposing someone at their most vulnerable, need to realise that they are a part of the problem. Those who watch or distribute revenge porn are the issue. Our bodies are not your body.

To those who thought it would be okay to tackle my place where I felt most safe, I hope you never have to feel the pain of being humiliated for being your authentic self.

- Anonymous

 

 I want you to imagine you’ve woken up in a fishbowl.

There’s nothing in there but you; you’re naked, and you’re neck-deep in water. 

Now imagine that fishbowl is the centrepiece of a museum, with not only hundreds of guests taking turns to press their faces against the glass, but also media coverage, and a constant video stream appearing on screens and uploading online.

The reactions to your “exhibit” go one of three ways. 

  1. Upturned noses and tones of disgust, an occasional insult thrown in, with a sprinkle of “why on earth would they agree to get in that tank”.

  2. Abrasive laughter, banging on the glass, and verbal attacks on your character.

  3. Unwelcome sexual advances, hungry eyes and sickly tongues lapping up every minute of your discomfort.

You can’t go anywhere, and even if you were to turn round, it’s a 360 view. If you try to scream, they either don’t hear, or they notice and laugh, telling you it’s your own fault you’re in there. It’s impossible to explain that you didn’t get in there willingly, you have no idea who put you there, and that you’re humiliated. You are praying nobody recognises you but you know plenty do. The anxiety, shame, embarrassment and fear that fills you is like nothing you’ve ever experienced, watching helplessly as your previous life track and legacy is painted over, tarnished by this new and unexpected turn. As the time passes, you start to consider letting yourself slip under the water, wondering if it would be an easier route than continuing to keep your head above it. You’re trying to fight those thoughts, because surely you have to be let out at some point. Surely there is an end to this. 

The first time someone discovers they’ve become a victim of revenge porn, they find themselves in that bowl. Those who search for, engage with or share the content are the exhibition-goers, and their varying reactions are all as scarring as each other. 

Last week, I found myself waking up in that bowl for the fifth or sixth time in my life - surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of others, all in the same position. 

Some were similar to me - seasoned - tired, angry and exhausted at the thought of going through this again. Others were obvious first-timers, gasping for air and assistance. This was the biggest exhibition I’d ever seen, and quite honestly I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Finding out I’ve been a victim of revenge porn has happened to me so many times the initial emotions of hurt, fear, anxiety and panic have boiled down over time to just rage. At the start, I was convinced my life was over, contemplated suicide, fell into states of isolation to try and protect myself, and even went so far as to change my name. The idea that a two-second upload for one person can be years of torment for another is devastating.

A link had been sent to me by a girl I knew from school, advising me that my photos had been included in what appeared to be a master-post of 146 other womxn, all from my area. Their full names were plastered on folders that contained from anywhere between one and four hundred files, all uploaded and shared illegally by an unknown source. It was a shock to the system.

As my blood began to heat up, I couldn’t help but feel within me that the time had come to break my silence on this issue. This had to stop, and if other voices were quiet, I was going to use mine louder than ever.

I channelled my anger and decided to try something that would result in a positive outcome. Taking to social media, I informed my following of the severity of this issue, the number of people affected, and why it could no longer be swept under the carpet and ignored. This gained traction, and soon I was receiving messages from dozens of other victims and their friends, as well as news outlets, welcoming the awareness being spread. 

I was also then sent a further link, which not only covered my area, but the entirety of the UK.

This is when it became bigger than just my city.

There were photos people had taken themselves, and ones they were completely unaware of. There were screenshots of social media accounts, names, locations and workplaces, and even evidence of sexual assaults. Everything was there, laid bare for the world to see, and hundreds of womxn found themselves lost, dumfounded and unbeknownst of where to turn.

We live in a digital age. As both tactile and visual creatures, it comes as no shock that much of our world is governed by sex. As far back as is imaginable, there have been artistic interpretations of the human form - everywhere from inscriptions, to sculptures, to paintings, and more recently - digital media. 

We have all at some time been curious or confident enough to take an intimate recording of ourselves in a vulnerable (/empowering) state. Part of learning about our sexuality and physical being is documenting it, and it is hard to imagine anyone in this world not having the notion to snap even the simplest photo of themselves partially or completely nude. Even if not for romantic or sexual gain - sometimes to log a weight loss journey, a holiday photo by the beach, or even of a bad case of sunburn. I’m sure we’ve all had those moments where we’ve felt an unusual bump and we’ve grabbed our phones to take a closer look - the point is, these types of pictures are taken every day, by millions of people, for countless reasons. 

On the sexual side, feeling particularly comfortable with a lover can often lead to sharing intimate moments when apart, filming secrets to refer back to later, and placing an immense amount of faith and trust within the other to ensure such moments stay strictly between the two. 

Nobody that isn’t involved in the making of this content has a right to it, unless all parties agree upon releasing it for some reason.

Revenge Porn is nothing new. As of 2016, it was officially made illegal throughout the UK to upload or distribute, and is covered under the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Act. It also doesn’t just affect Britain; this is a worldwide issue, and with millions being affected everywhere, it’s baffling that so many are utterly unaware of its existence and effects.

The go-to response for those who are ignorant is simply put: “don’t take these kinds of photos”. Now, I think I’ve explained enough about why they would be taken, and how even those attempting to dignify such a comment would undoubtedly also find a downfall - but let me now implore even darker corners of this matter. A lot of victims are in fact utterly unaware that their most vulnerable moments have been captured in the first place.

There have been secret recordings; ones where the subject is facing away, ones where the subject is asleep. There has been content that has never left one location, which has been then hacked into, and leaked. If you can imagine it, it has been done - and to be blaming victims for an event they very clearly never intended to host in their lives, is nonsensical.

Then there’s another side, where victims have posted perfectly innocent, clothed photos, and unscrupulous reprobates have then taken it upon themselves to upload them to a board asking if someone can photoshop their clothes off. Yes, this is real - revenge porn can literally be fabricated, from any normal photo, creating a whole new subcategory of treachery. 

On top of this there is also technology that allows one to insert anyone’s face, given that they have enough data, onto anything - and so the rise of supposed “celebrity” porn has come to the forefront in recent years - completely false imagery, but indistinguishable the untrained eye.

When it comes to celebrity’s nude photos surfacing, there are usually teams of highly trained and internet-savvy lawyers behind them, able to help them obliterate (almost) any trace. When it comes to an everyday person however, the resources are limited to essentially zero.

The police force are not trained in dealing with this crime, despite the law. In movies, hackers can trace an IP address in seconds, but in real life, this either isn’t possible at all, or is seemingly a low priority. Police aren’t fully aware of the impact or severity - without any proper resources, information or indeed empathy for the situation, many victims who seek support from the people supposedly keeping the world “safe”, are often dismissed, shamed further, and not offered anything close to a solution. This sadly reigns true with a lot of sexual violence, with cases being dropped, “insufficient evidence” allowing abusers to walk free, and endless cycles of trauma for those affected.

Victims can face having phones seized, anonymity breached, or just outright refusal of assistance. Change your name, change your social media, move away - these are some of the genuine suggestions so many have told me they’ve received upon making a desperate plea for help. There is a severe lack of hope that falls upon all of our shoulders, knowing that there is seemingly no-one in the world that can fix or understand what they’re going through, and with that constant blame, shame and spotlight - it’s not hard to imagine how so many become deprived of all willpower.

People have lost their jobs, partners, families, friends, opportunities and sheer will to live over this crime. It is not a one-time thing, able to be reworked and filtered out by therapy. Revenge porn follows you, potentially forever, your name and face always leading back to the selfish actions of someone you trusted, or someone you didn’t even know.

Schoolteachers, lawyers, doctors and everyone in between can be affected by this. There is no one type of victim - every age, gender, profession and location is at risk, and it’s not just if you take a picture - it’s if you dare to be alive at all.

Rape and sexual abuse culture has us blaming victims all the time. The truth is, sexual violence occurs because of people who are insecure, lonely and broken, unable to understand the full spectrum of effects on the rest of their victim’s lives in exchange for their fleeting rush of excitement. The culture is alive not just in the forums, porn sites and file sharing locations discussed here - it’s in the streets, the television shows we watch, the songs we listen to. It seems inescapable, and with dismissive claims of “the snowflake generation”, “everyone is too easily offended these days”; it’s no wonder that there are so many disheartened souls wandering around, equally matched by furious, fighting ones.

It’s okay to fall into either category. Some of us can’t be as strong as we’re expected to, and there should be no guilt associated with this. However, those brave enough to stand their ground, not be held down, and raise their firsts - they’re willing to fight for all of us, and together as a community, we do possess unmeasurable strength.

There have to be changes made in both the law, and law enforcement. Culprits of this crime must face harsher penalties; jail time, a spot on the sex offender’s register, permanent strikes against their names. Websites who allow such content to exist within their ranks need to be penalised too, with serious consequences for the creators or platform altogether. 

This week I want to reach out to survivors. Tell me your stories. Recognise you are not alone.

I have set up this website to enforce a project which will allow those going through similar situations to band together, find inspiration, and find comfort. I want to show the world how many people are targeted daily, with lingering effects lasting for years, in the hope that awareness is raised, and so too is support. 

The world is in desperate need of change, in so many ways, and if we are to move forward as a society, cyber-crime must be treated just as seriously as face-to-face crime. Not everything is stabbings and murders any more; times are less barbaric and more insidious, less up front and more under wraps.

If you know anyone affected by this, please support them. They can contact me via revengeonrevengeporn.com, the Revenge Porn Helpline on 0345 6000 459, or the police - the more reports, the more change we have of being treated fairly.

I offer my most heartfelt condolences for any fellow victims. 

Hold onto your hope.

- Mikala