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I Was the Victim of Revenge Porn [VIDEO]

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It was a way to keep our relationship alive. I started taking the pictures when I was away at school and I couldn’t see my boyfriend very often. I thought if I took the pictures it would spice things up  – tease him a little so he would miss me more.

I was slightly nervous about sending them at first. On one occasion I went through his phone to make sure he was deleting them. Still, after knowing him for ten years, I trusted him and I would never have dreamed he would turn around and put my pictures out there on the internet for everyone to see.

We broke up when I found out he was cheating on me. I hadn’t been able to see him as often as before because I was attending a university that was an hour and a half away from our home town. I started dating someone new shortly after. The new guy was mainly a rebound, but I needed to move on.

To this day I will never know what caused him to lash out. It’s something my therapist and I discuss all the time. She said I just need to move past that, that I’ll never get that answer. I just didn’t think he would ever do what he did. It was way out of character.

I didn’t know the pictures were online for a long time. Three months after they were posted, an anonymous person emailed me. He explained in detail where the pictures were, who he thought posted them and why he thought it was that person. The email was so descriptive that I have to believe it was someone I know. Chances are the anonymous emailer was a mutual friend of my ex and I – someone who wanted me to know what was being done to me, but who didn’t want to get involved.

Finding out that my private photos had been posted online created a feeling that words can’t describe. It was like getting punched repeatedly in the gut until I was laying on the ground, helpless. I couldn’t fight back. I felt powerless, betrayed and hurt. I didn’t know what to do next and I didn’t know who to turn to at the time. I felt so many emotions at once, but mostly, I was sad.

During the three months before I learned that the pictures were online, I had been trying to rekindle my friendship with my ex. We were having friendly conversations and even hanging out. But after we’d spend time together, he would go home and post pictures of me naked, talk to people while pretending to be me, and give out my personal information. I had people looking for me. I’ve always been one to trust easily, so this betrayal felt like a knife in my back. Over the past year and a half that knife has been turned over and over again.

When I first saw the photos, I did what anyone would do: I cried. A lot. Then, I called my best friend. She had just started a new job, but she left work right away. She was at my doorstep in twenty minutes. She consoled me, furious as can be, and took me to the police station. We didn’t know what else to do. I tried calling my ex, trying to give him that one chance to redeem himself. He sent me to voicemail. I couldn’t be happier that I made the choice to go to the police.

The police took my case seriously from day one. They questioned my ex and when he finally admitted to it he was arrested on the spot. Still, his charges were downgraded to harassment. He got community service and some anger management classes, a psychological evaluation and a small fine. To me, it was a slap on the wrist, and he didn’t even end up with a criminal background.

It didn’t end there. Even after being arrested, my ex continued to post pictures. I was granted a final restraining order. He was arrested for a second time, for violating the restraining order and invasion of privacy. Invasion of privacy is a charge that criminalizes revenge porn in New Jersey, where we both live. It holds a sentence of three to five years. Currently, my ex is pleading not-guilty, which means that we are going to trial. If he would plead guilty he might only get one year in county jail, but if we go to trial he faces up to six years in state prison, and I’ll have to relive the whole thing again in court.

Following this experience, I went through a very dark time. I spent a year and a half obsessing about it. I let it take over every thought, every action. I wouldn’t tell people how I really felt, but I was afraid for myself. I didn’t want to do anything – I didn’t want to leave where I was living at the time, didn’t want to go to my parents’ house because my ex had given out their address, didn’t want to go to class. I continued to pay for school but never attended.

Nyika Allen (L) and Anisha Vora (r), a New Jersey victim of revenge porn

Nyika Allen (L) and Anisha Vora (r), victims of revenge porn

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I was able to let go a little. I’m getting there, slowly and with each day. Talking to my therapist has helped a lot. I have a hard time understanding how I could have someone in my life for a decade and then they could turn around and do something so malicious. There are questions I have for my ex that will never be answered. It’s hard to let go.

But I have learned a lot. I was in a relationship when I found out about the pictures. He wasn’t very supportive and didn’t want to come to court or to the police station. I took my friends instead, and those friendships only became stronger. In the end it didn’t work out with that boyfriend, but, as cliche as it sounds, I’ve discovered who my true friends are.

These days I am with an amazing guy and he is extremely supportive. He tries to attend all my court dates to be there for me. He helps me through the tough days, the days when I just break down. He always reminds me of how strong I am. I definitely lucked out.

My new boyfriend knew from the beginning what I was going through. I try not to keep it a secret. I don’t want to build a friendship or relationship and then break the news; I prefer to let them take it in from day one. If its something they can’t accept, then they know where the door is. I don’t have time for judgment, and I sure don’t want people who pity me.

Now, I volunteer for End Revenge Porn. I respond to victims’ emails and I remind them that they are not alone. Knowing that I am helping someone else helps me get through each day. I also started blogging for the site. Helping this organization has opened my eyes to so much and helped me deal with my own situation. I realize now that staying quiet doesn’t help, but speaking out does.

When I look back now I see how strong I’ve become. People always tell me, “If that happened to me I don’t think I could have gotten through it like you have.” What they don’t realize is that you have no choice. I feel like this experience has shaped me into a stronger, more independent person. If this had to happen all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing, but I would not wish this on anyone else. It’s a hell of a price to pay for just trying to spice up your relationship.

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Activists Fight to Secure Legal Recourse for Revenge Porn Victims

For all its benefits, the rapid development of social media has brought with it new occasions for exploitation and harassment — and oftentimes these offenses go unpunished. But women are mobilizing to combat one especially pernicious form of online sexual violence: revenge porn.

According to End Revenge Porn, it would be more precise to use the term “nonconsensual pornography, defined as the distribution of sexually graphic images of individuals without their consent.” Broadly recently interviewed a number of women who have been the targets of nonconsensual pornography, generally after a vengeful ex-boyfriend sought to humiliate them — sometimes even render them vulnerable to physical attacks.

Anisha Vora and Nyika Allen, both of whom appear in the film, sought legal recourse after discovering that their ex-boyfriends had posted intimate photos of them across the Internet. But as Broadly traces their narratives, the film demonstrates how ill-equipped law enforcement remains when these cases arise. And in some states revenge porn has yet to be treated with the severity necessary to eliminate it. From Broadly:

“Twenty-six states now have specific revenge porn laws on the books. But despite these recent legislative victories, non-consensual pornography is still a growing problem. In states where revenge porn isn’t an explicit offense, existing anti-harassment laws fail women who have had their privacy violated online.”

Although women are not the sole targets of revenge porn, they do comprise, the film notes, 90 percent of the victims. Both Anisha and Nyika have endured brutally protracted processes in order to achieve some semblance of justice. But though their ex-boyfriends are brought to court and punished, the harm endures. For instance, Anisha still receives reports of websites that refuse to take down the pictures her ex-boyfriend posted. Nyika’s harasser actually goes so far as to make lewd gestures at her in court.

And yet, as Broadly notes, Anisha, Nyika, not to mention other victims and allies, have “ignited an activist movement to reclaim their lives, images, and narratives.” Nyika has delivered a TED talk entitled “Fighting Revenge Porn,” and Anisha has told her story to a variety of news outlets.

“When the public is able to hear from the victims themselves, and to hear their stories, and to hear that they’re not just dirty people doing crazy things, I think it’s really helping the public understand that this is a problem caused by someone else,” says Elisa D’Amico of the K&L Gates Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, “not these men and women who are really truly victims.”

 

 

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