5 Horrifying Ways an Ex Can Ruin Your Life With Nude Photos
Professor Annmarie Chiarini, Anisha Vora, and Dr. Holly Jacobs have a few things in common: They've all had explicit photos of themselves shared online, and they've all decided to do something about it. In August of 2012, Jacobs started EndRevengePorn.org and quickly found out that the concept of pornography as vengeance is even stranger than it sounds when we type it out like that. Working with Vora and Chiarini, she discovered that ...
Everyone Will Blame You
If you see a picture of a naked person online, the default assumption is that they put it there themselves, because we want to believe that the world is a beautiful place full of consensual genitalia. Of course, it's a bummer if your boss finds those pictures, because most workplaces frown on that sort of thing. When Jacobs first heard from human resources at her school, they made the default assumption and came after her: "They were pursuing it so much and asking so many questions insinuating that I was doing this myself ... I legally changed my name." To clarify, the problem isn't that a school was concerned that their employee was being sexually inappropriate with their students -- they of course need to watch out for that shit (it's only charming when Indiana Jones does it). The problem is that, after it became apparent that this was an attack on one of their teachers, the school's very first reaction was to put as much distance between them as possible. It's virtually impossible to convince people that it's not somehow your fault.
"If you didn't want this to happen, then why are you always naked under your clothes?"
One revenge porn site was run by a single mother who posted the pictures jilted wives sent her of their husbands' mistresses. She of course did nothing to verify these stories or identities before posting naked photos of strangers, and when questioned about the lives she was affecting, she insisted that women "love the attention." Because as we all know, there's no such thing as bad attention -- even when it's technically a form of sexual abuse that essentially ruins your public life, at least somebody thought nice things about your butt.
"COXcum469 doesn't throw praise lightly. You should be honored."
There's some kind of general assumption that, once you send nudes to somebody, the picture is theirs to do with as they please. But the gift of an intimate photo doesn't automatically include permission to plaster that photo on the Internet, any more than telling someone where you hide your spare key so they can feed your cats gives them permission to post that information on Craigslist under the title "FREE CAT MEAT."
You'll Mostly Hear: "Well, You Shouldn't Have Sent the Pictures in the First Place!"
Some people argue that this whole issue comes down to women not being careful enough online. (Social Justice Jeff Foxworthy Says: "If you generally catch yourself pointing fingers at the victim when shit goes down, you might be an asshole.") That's flawed logic, but more importantly, it's not often true: Vora's photos were shared by a family friend she'd known since sixth grade, and Jacobs' were posted by an ex after their mutual breakup. In some cases, the photos weren't shared at all; many women have simply had their emails hacked.
And if you're lucky enough to have the resources of Scarlett Johansson, you might be able to do something about it.
And this kind of experience isn't limited to carefree teenage girls who don't know any better: Chiarini was a 39-year-old college professor, and Jacobs has "Dr." right there in her name -- not generally a title you see on dumb teenagers outside of the 1980s rap scene. Also remember that when they shared their pictures, "revenge porn" wasn't even a term yet. You can't take precautions against something you don't know exists, and they were no more prepared for the revenge porn experience than you are for the Great High-Fructose Corn Syrup Tsunami of 2016.
It Goes Way Beyond Sharing Pictures
Maybe you're thinking that this whole thing is getting blown out of proportion. Sure, it's a massive violation, but the Internet is nothing if not massive and violating. What are the odds of someone you know actually recognizing you, let alone bringing enough attention to affect your life?
"Of course I knew it was you. How many other people have a birthmark of Oklahoma?"
Pretty good, it turns out, since that's exactly what most revenge porn revolves around. Jacobs' explicit video was titled "[University Name] Professor Masturbates for Her Students," because her ex specifically wanted to frame the video in a way that portrayed her as a sexual predator. This is where the whole "revenge" aspect comes into play. Chiarini's and Vora's experiences were different, but no less terrifying: In both cases, their exes created online profiles about them, complete with their addresses and phone numbers, and actively messaged strangers, propositioning them for sex. Random Internet dudes started showing up at Vora's house asking to see her, or would wait by her door to "surprise" her when she came home from school. "The cops said I could call them if it happens again," she said, "But how does that help? ... 'Sorry, sir, please don't rape me for five minutes while I dial 911'?"
"Sure, you can use my phone after I finish posting your address on r/serialkillers."
It may be ridiculous, but that's not hyperbole -- Vora has good reason to be freaked out. "It surprises me how incredibly angry this topic makes men," Chiarini told us. "I've received rape threats and have been told 'you deserve to suffer' -- it's anger, like I did something personally to these men." This isn't shiny happy fun porn. This is revenge porn, and it's not about eroticism; it's about, well, revenge -- and the people seeking it often aren't even sure what they want revenge for. The men violently reacting to Chiarini were just random Internet users, not her ex. Not her employers. Not people she knew at all. They had no personal stake in her affairs whatsoever, but they were still pissed at something and coming after her. We're not sure if it's better or worse that the vengeance-seeking sociopaths showing up at your door expecting sex are also "confused" and "directionless," but it gets worse, because ...
The Law Usually Can't Protect You
When Chiarini first went to the police about her ex sharing her photos, the first question they asked was how old she'd been when the pictures were taken. She answered that she was over 18 at the time, so the next question they asked was "Who's next in line?" See, despite the fact that he had done virtually everything in his power to destroy her life and was apparently succeeding, Chiarini's ex hadn't actually broken a law yet. In many states, it's not even a crime to share private, compromising photos of somebody for the express purpose of harming them.
If this kind of sounds like the plot for a bad Lifetime movie, that's because it is.
Vora had more luck: Because her state is one of the few where revenge porn is illegal, she could get her ex arrested on domestic violence charges. This solved all of her problems ... except for the biggest one: The fact that her pictures were still on the Internet. Taking something down from the Internet, even if it's illegal, is like bailing out the ocean with a teacup. Just ask the RIAA. To this day, Vora still gets creepy pictures in her inbox (and much, much more worryingly, sometimes on her doorstep), signed by strangers saying they are "just returning the favor."
"At least it's in ink this time."
Don't jump all over the cops for this one, though: Writing anti-revenge-porn laws is tough. If you make it illegal for the person who took a photo to publish it without getting the subject's permission, then you're not protecting people who share nude selfies, which makes up the majority of revenge porn photos. And the laws won't get more specific until people decide that someone who takes a nude picture of themselves still deserves protection. Silly lawmakers -- naked people are clearly very vulnerable. They need protection the most.
But don't get too disheartened yet, because ...
Things Are Changing for the Better
End Revenge Porn has made an incredible amount of progress getting laws passed in a short amount of time. "We're working on at least a dozen state bills and a federal bill right now," Jacobs told us, "and it's only been 16 months!" That's a long time to be naked and helpless, but in congressional terms, it's practically time travel. Luckily, others are helping fill the gaps:
James McGibney, a former Marine who runs Bullyville.com, sued a prominent revenge porn site owner for $250,000 (with daily compounding interest, which is the worst kind of interest), for accusing McGibney of being a pedophile and threatening his wife. "There's no point in having pissing matches online. We look at everything from a legal scenario," McGibney told us. "Word gets out that if you own a revenge porn site, Bullyville will come after you. And they have to think, 'Is it worth it ... when this is coming?'"
Adam Steinbaugh, a legal blogger, helped expose an extortion scam with the website IsAnybodyDown.com: "It was basically telling people 'if you don't want to be featured on our website, contact this attorney' ... turns out it's the same person who runs the website." He also works with PayPal to get revenge porn site owners' accounts shut down, and once all the money goes out of being a living stain on the underwear of humanity, most people find a different career path. On Twitter, he helps victims get in contact with lawyers who can help them with their specific case, making him the owner of perhaps the first and only practical Twitter account in history.
They're all learning something: When you make the Internet understand that there are real people behind the pics, most users don't like revenge porn. "When I first started End Revenge Porn, and I would post on blogs and news sites about it, the response was 100 percent negative," said Jacobs. "Now, it's very seldom that we get a negative response. Once I started putting a face and a personal experience on this, people started thinking, 'I don't care if trolls speak against me. What this girl went through is terrible, and what she's doing is amazing, and someone needs to help her.'"
Good job, humanity!
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