What Revenge Porn Did To Me

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RevengePorn_1.2Illustrated By Emily Kowzan.
Many of us have heard horror stories about so-called "revenge porn." It's one of the more nightmarish byproducts of the Internet age. The stories usually go something like this: A resentful ex posts embarrassing photos of his or her hapless victim, destroying their reputation online — and possibly their chances to land a job or to get approved for an apartment. We spoke with Katie, whose ex-boyfriend posted revenge porn of her after their relationship ended.

Who was this guy?
"He was a friend of a friend who went to a high school close to mine, and he started messaging me when I was 15. That went on for about a year before I met him [in person]. We stopped talking for a while, but started up again when I was 17. He was five years older than me. He was an art student at a local college, and I was a senior in high school."

And, how did the relationship progress?
"We dated for three and a half years. When I first started going out with him, he kind of rushed into it. I said the things he wanted me to say, because I was young, and I was naïve. I lost my virginity to him two weeks into our relationship. I wanted to wait longer, but I kept thinking, well, he is five years older than me, and is used to having regular sex with his girlfriends.

He told me he loved me about a month into our relationship, which really freaked me out. I really liked him, but it was more lust and teenage infatuation – it definitely wasn’t love. It was more excitement that a guy his age would be interested in me. He was cute. He was tall and skinny and in a band…

He was always sort of giving too much and then pulling away. And, that sort of characterized our relationship. I don’t even know that I was really, truly in love with him, ever. It was more like he was playing with my mind. We were never really romantic or mushy. He was more like a really manipulative best friend. I was really young, and I knew that he wasn’t a good guy, but I thought I could fix him. And, he definitely knew that and took advantage of that."
RevengePorn_2.2Illustrated By Emily Kowzan.
What was your first experience shooting photos or videos with him?
"We only did it once. My mom has always been terrified of that kind of thing — she would always say, since I was a teenager, “Never let anyone take pictures of you.” And, to be honest, I never sent him any pictures of myself. So taking a video wasn’t something I would have done. But about two and a half years into the relationship, he started badgering me about making a video. He got fixated on it…he would ask me, “Why don’t you want to do it? Don’t you trust me?” He just kept asking, and got more and more mean about it — “Don’t you care about our sex life? Don’t you care about things not being boring?” He was so persistent, but I never gave in. Then, one night, we came back to his place drunk after a party. We started having sex…I was very, very drunk, so it’s still kind of foggy.

But, I just remember him quietly taking his laptop and putting it on the bed. I asked him, “What are you doing?” He said, “Don’t worry.” He told me that he just liked the idea of someone watching. So, I guess I gave in. Looking back, I completely regret it. He just wore me down…and I thought I could trust him at the time, which was probably silly, but I was so young. I was 19 or 20, and I had been with him for so long…and he was the one who kept preaching about trust and all that. So, I woke up the next day with a weird feeling in my stomach. He had already gone to school, so I checked his computer, and I couldn’t find any trace of it. I even asked him later, and he said he deleted it. He must have saved it to a flash drive or something. I think he had planned all along to keep that for whenever I broke up with him. Because I think he always knew I would be the one to break up with him."

How much longer did the relationship last after that?
"About six months. After he took the video, we went to Ecuador to see his family. That was when I realized that this relationship was either going to get really serious, or I had to end it. And, he was just really controlling, really manipulative, and I knew I didn’t need him as much as he needed me. I kept putting off the breakup because I knew that he would flip out. But, towards the end, he would always get mad at me and threaten to break up with me, so that I would have to beg him not to. That’s always how it went. So, one day, he “broke up” with me, and I said, “Okay.” I didn’t answer his calls for several days. And, then he started getting really desperate, and calling me incessantly. He called me, crying, and threatened to kill himself. He ended up cutting his wrists with a butcher knife. I remember leaving work and walking down the street, calling the cops, then calling my dad, just crying. I went home. After talking to my therapist, I decided I shouldn’t go see him in the hospital.

Soon after this, I found out about all the girls he had cheated on me with over the years. Over the next few months, I heard from some of them, saying that he was going to kill himself. But, every time, he was just trying to get my attention."
RevengePorn_4Illustrated By Emily Kowzan.
So, when did you find out about the photos that he posted online? Did you find them yourself?
"I didn’t find out until several months later. I had just gone on my first OKCupid date, and he stayed over at my house. I left that morning to go to work, and he must have used my computer, because he texted me at work and asked me, “Did you know that there are pictures of you online?” And, I knew what he was talking about immediately. I just knew in the back of my mind that that video existed, and that’s what it was. It was stills from that video pasted onto a screenshot of my Facebook profile. It was also posted on a revenge porn website. You could Google my name and it would come up on the top of the second page of results. And, it wasn’t just naked pictures. I feel like it would have been a little less scarring for me if it had just been pictures I had taken of myself. But, it was stills of me having sex with him."

How did you feel when you first heard about it?
"It was awful. I just had this horrible sinking feeling. Because the Internet is so permanent. I knew it was something that wouldn’t be easy to undo, if it were possible at all."

So, what was your next move?
"I called my friend, who thought to plug the photos into Google Images to see where else they were, and she found that it wasn’t posted anywhere else. She tried to make profiles for me on different sites to try to bury the photos in the search results. After that, I tried to research what I could do about it. I asked around about a hacker who would be willing to break in and take the photos down, but I didn’t find anyone. I found this site called reputation.com, which is what politicians and celebrities use to clear their name. But all they could do was put the link on page three of my Google search results, and it would cost $10,000. So that wasn’t an option. And all the time, I was constantly afraid that my bosses would Google my name and find it and I would be fired. And, I was thinking about applying for jobs and graduate school. I didn’t know what to do."

"Two months later, I told my parents, because I thought maybe that way I could get a lawyer to do something about it. My mother and I went out to dinner one night, and once I told her, she was in the bathroom for like 15 minutes — I think she was vomiting. When she came back, she didn’t touch her food at all. We were there for two hours. But, after talking it out we decided on what to do next.

We found an Internet lawyer named Erica Johnstone, who’s one of the authorities in Internet privacy law. She was incredibly helpful. I had tried emailing the site where my pictures were posted for months, trying to get them to take the photo down, and didn’t get a response. But Erica emailed them and they took it down immediately. She also got my ex-boyfriend to agree to a settlement that stipulated that he would not post any more photos of me. He didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing — but if he posted any more photos, I could have sued him. That was the best we could do, really. In the end, my legal fees ended up being about $2,000."
RevengePorn_3.2Illustrated By Emily Kowzan.
Have there been any more incidents since then?
"A few months later, I got a Twitter message from a random guy in South America, saying, “I found pictures of you on the Internet.” He sent it to me, and it was the same picture. He had found it on 4chan.

There was nothing I could do, really. With 4chan there’s no way of finding it because everything expires in five minutes. So, I don’t know if it’s still making the rounds on 4chan, I assume it probably is. I plugged the photo into Google Image Search, and it’s on this one random forum, all in Russian, and it’s from the time the video was taken, which was several years ago. I don’t think anyone has looked at it, and it doesn’t have my name spelled out, so you can’t Google it.

Some people post revenge porn and they don’t think about it. You don’t really, really realize that what you’re putting on the Internet is permanent.

What are things like now? Does this continue to affect your life?
"It has definitely affected the way I view sex. I have a screwed-up sense of sexuality. It’s weird, because I’m a very sexual person, but I often have this feeling that what I’m doing is depraved, or if I’m with someone that I don’t feel is bad, that I could be soiling them in some way. It’s something I’ve been struggling with for the last couple of years now. I go through phases of wanting to take control of my body and my sexuality, and then I go through phases where I just avoid it and I don’t feel like a sexual being for months at a time. It’s really unhealthy.

And, reading all of the slut-shaming on the Internet…it doesn’t affect me a lot, but it does a little bit. It makes me upset to live in a world where something like this can happen to a 17 year old…how can you expect anyone to know? It’s easy to say, “She’s a stupid slut” when nothing like that has ever happened to you.

As told to Justin Sedor

Names and locations have been changed to protect the subject's anonymity.

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