I am a victim of Revenge Porn

An Anonymous UCL student shares the story of how her fellow student, and so-called friend, shared nude photos of her online against her clear wishes.

Anyone who names either student will be subject to disciplinary action from UCLU and your academic department’s internal procedures. This article has been submitted in strict confidence and neither UCLU nor The Amnesty will reveal their identities.

Party in a different city, unknown club to you. Unknown guy grasps nape of you neck, claws your hair. Rugby-guy muscles flexed and teeth gritted, he insists ‘you gonna come back to mine? Come on’. He looks up and down your body and gives you this freak grin. You run away. Rape culture.

The topic of this article is so cliché, regurgitated millions and trillions of times, that readers will probably glance over the headline, roll their eyes and move straight on. Revenge porn, illegal photo sharing, all rooted in the same mentality that gives rise to rape culture. It is so unfortunate that these issues do not truly hit us until our loved ones, or ourselves, have been subject to their consequences in some shape or form.

So, here is my story.

Yes, people warn you. People tell you not to. He’s a douche, everyone knows he is just not nice, he will mess you over, he will xyz… but he isn’t like that, not to you. Since day one, he’s treated you with the respect that’s due from a good friend. He listened to your drama with other guys, he shared his life stuff as you did yours. You knew he had slightly weird views on things, but somehow he always managed to justify them. He seemed there for you when you were down, ill, needed someone to listen. There were never any feelings involved- neither of you wanted more than friendship and that was crystal clear. Both on the same page, both decent people. Or so you thought.

It’s the naivety. Or the scar tissue from bad relationships: someone who’s too kind is using you as a means to some end, someone too abusive you won’t hang around, for obvious reasons. But you carry on and go along to see what happens because that is your nature. You come back with him in the early hours after a night out, but insist that you don’t want to do anything. He protests, but in the end you lie in bed with your clothes half-on half-off and fall asleep for several hours at dawn. Next time he comes round to yours. What was deemed to happen from the outset happens. Everyone around you could see it, except yourself. But it’s not a problem – no feelings, no nothing. Two friends happen to hook up one night and that’s that. Just a bit of innocent fun. Unlike how it will end.

He comes round again another night. You do stuff, but then actually you aren’t really feeling it after a while so you stop. He begs you, you say you don’t want to.

Then the weirdest thing happens.

He feels the need to document this, as if you’re some kind of trophy he has earned. ‘Wow, everybody, look who I’ve got into bed with me’. Amazing. You tell him not to take that photo but he does so nonetheless. Within seconds, he’s sent it to friends – people you know, his friends from home, everyone. Just like that. You then proceed to tell him you don’t want to have sex…. But he begs and begs for it, so you let him just so you can be left alone to comprehend what just happened. Yes, consented. But by no means wanted.

Just like that, your body is nothing more than a medal in someone’s mind.

That’s all you are, a pretty face to add to his trophy collection.

And then comes the panic. This could spread – it will spread – who knows who will have seen it by tomorrow. You’ll never know when that photo could will back to haunt you.

The worst thing? How you thought this person was a friend. Disappointment that he overstepped the line of basic respect expected from anyone, especially a friend. Neither of you wanted more, it’s just betrayal, easy for him, forever for you.

You then think: I came to university thinking “I don’t do relationships”. People want them for their own ego and personal gain until they’re done with you. Then they ditch you without explanation, no matter how much you’ve given them. Turns out, sleeping with someone and being uncommitted isn’t very different. Yes, the reason why they wanted you is more explicit – but this does not stop them from using and abusing you. In fact, surely in a situation where someone, a friend, cares about you (or has to pretend to, if they want it to last until a certain point), they should have less of an incentive to do these things… So it isn’t an issue of being in a relationship or being uncommitted. The issue is the care and respect that people mutually owe each other in whatever situation they find themselves. The violation of that care and respect.

Yet you cannot stop putting the blame onto yourself.

Funny word, ‘prize’. Do you need me only for social status? Is my mind and body worth nothing more than food for your ego? Get yourself some other trophy. Let your ego thrive by other means, I do not want it. Don’t stare at me hungrily as though I were a piece of meat, or cry when you yourself caused those tears. I do not want it.

But if you don’t get what you want, you’ll make it happen anyway. One way or another, you will – and take a goddamn photo of it. You need photographic evidence to send to all your friends. You can claim she begged for it. They can tell you what a lad you are. In reality… pssht.

Sexual partners should not be trophies.

It should not be a game, one party ‘getting’ the other to consent. There should be no prize, no association with status or power. This is where the incentive to spread photos stems from. Any form of sexual relationship should be based on respect between two people – in love or not –  respect for one another’s boundaries, enough respect to do things because you actually want to, not to play some game for the purposes of showing off to other people. This is basic respect for your own and another person’s bodily integrity.

You face immense pressure to report it. Do it for feminism, do it for your own dignity, do it for law and order, do it for fair punishment. But hold on: Given that revenge porn, and a whole host of forms of sexual abuse, most commonly occurs between people we already know, there’s massively strong pressure in the opposite direction. Reporting a former friend (colleague, family member, lover – you name it) adds a personal connection to the equation. Even for a most vile invasion of your bodily integrity, you feel guilt. What if your family finds out? Disowned. Plus how dare you report your friend for being “slightly forceful”? “Making a mistake”?

Don’t blow this out of proportion, it isn’t a big deal anyway and you need to get over yourself. Or so your head tells you, so you try to move on. With that comes the shame. Your brain will make you think it is you yourself who made the problem out of this situation in the first place. Why did you get into bed with him? Why were you not firm enough when you said no? Why did you not leave, or tell him to leave? Why are you generally acting like such a whore? If you weren’t such a slut, this wouldn’t have happened. Why did you lead him on? Serves you a right; this lesson was inevitable. You should have expected it, so why are you complaining?

But please, please just remember one thing. If you take anything away from this article at all, it is this:

Establish boundaries, do not blame yourself. There is enough victim-blaming already. Do not exacerbate it by subconsciously shifting everything onto yourself. If you know a friend in this situation, help them out. The power of simple conversation against is remarkable in any situation like this. The more you think about it… the more chilled I feel. Look out for yourself, do not trust easily and voice your concerns. Most importantly: we need to change the culture that propagates this.

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