Trigger Warning: this article contains issues relating to consent, assault, digital assault, and revenge porn.
It is 2009, I am 14 years old, and I am going to school early to let one of my peers touch me in places that I know are private. He is blackmailing me, making me believe that I have no other option. My parents think I am going in early to spend time with friends before the bell rings. But this boy is not my friend.
I am standing in a corridor, letting him caress my body through my school uniform. He told me that he would tell my parents I have social media accounts against their wishes if I didn’t let him.
He calls my house phone after getting my number from the phone book, just to show me what he will do if I don’t listen. “It’s for you,” says my Mum, handing over the phone with a quizzical look on her face. She probably thinks something is going on between us, that I want to be in this situation. That I’m asking for it.
I lean against the wall in the alcove under the stairs by the geography classrooms, mute. I don’t say anything, I just let it happen and count down the seconds until it is over. I can’t possibly come clean and tell my parents that I went behind their back because I have been down this road before; last time my parents found out that my sister and I had been on social media, they grounded us for weeks at a time. This is preferable to social ostracism, I think to myself.
I am terrified of this boy and the hold he has over me. And yet I sit next to him in science lessons, I let him borrow a biro when he forgets his pencil case. I laugh at his jokes, pretending everything is OK when it’s not. I can’t say anything, because it’s my fault I’m in this situation.
One day, when we get home from school, he messages me asking for naked photos. I say ‘no’. He reminds me that I have to do what he says or he can terminate my social life for good. I go into the bathroom, I take a picture. I send it. I want to die.
The cycle continues for weeks until I finally think ‘enough is enough’. I sit down with my parents and make a case for them to let me have social media accounts. In the end, they say yes and just like that, the spell is broken. Suddenly he has no hold on me anymore, no more blackmail material.
Except he still does. Now he has a photograph of me in a compromising position and if I don’t send him more like it – in addition to continuing to meet him early in the morning before school – then he will share it with his friends. They will, in turn, share it with their friends and I will become the social pariah I never wanted to be in the first place.
He grins, leering at me as his hand brushes my thigh, trailing up my leg towards the hem of my skirt. His palm squeezes my breast and I can feel his hot, smug breath on my neck. He has me exactly where he wants me. I bite my lip as I rest my head on the wall behind me and count the seconds until it’s over. It’s only heavy petting, I think. It could be so much worse.
One day, I walk into class and everyone is looking at me. The boys guffaw and the girls look at me with disdain. I know immediately what has happened: he has shared my photos with others and the rumours have spread like wildfire around the school. The message is clear, I asked for this to happen; I wanted the world to see me, naked. I’m such a slut. It’s what I deserve.
The next few years at school are incredibly difficult; I suffer from depression and anxiety. Thankfully, my parents are incredibly supportive and I manage to get the grades I need to go to university where I can escape this horrible, horrible boy and the shadow he has cast on my life.
Fast forward to 2017 and I’m 22 years old. I have an email. I click on it; it’s a LinkedIn request. It’s the audacity of the request which shocks me the most. How can he look back on that time and think he’s somebody I would want to ‘connect’ with, on a professional let alone a personal level?
I never said anything at the time but I wish I had told my parents what was going on before it was too late. I wish when the phone rang and I froze in fear that I’d had the courage to say “you don’t have any power over me”. I wish I had passed the phone back over to my Mum and said: “this boy is harassing me and threatening me to make me do things I don’t want to do”. I wish I’d never lied to my parents about having social media accounts behind their back in the first place. Most of all, I wish I realised that it wasn’t my fault a lot sooner than I eventually did.
If I could go back in time and undo my silence, I would not be a victim of blackmail and sexual assault. But all I can do now is click ‘decline’ on the connection request and write this so that anyone who has been through something similar knows they are not alone. Nude photographs and videos are shared every day without the consent of those depicted; there have been great strides in the last week to prevent the spread of underage and revenge porn on Pornhub. However, more needs to be done to keep children safe from online harms and prevent malicious acts being committed by ex-partners.
Revenge porn has made headlines recently, partly due to Love Island‘s Georgia Harrison who has had her image violated by her ex-boyfriend; but regardless of fame or obscurity, sharing someone’s naked image without their consent is an incredible violation of someone’s privacy. There are hundreds of people like me and Georgia, where someone we at one point liked or trusted, took advantage of us. It is a grotesque crime and the perpetrators deserve to pay. But we stand together, as survivors: we weren’t asking for it. We didn’t deserve this. It is not our fault.
Words by Anonymous
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