A Survivor of Revenge Porn

Being the victim of a federal crime is not how I expected to get my 15 minutes of fame.

In October of 2018, my husband was running for the state legislature and I was managing his campaign. Three weeks before the election, he received threatening emails insisting he drop out of the race. Attached to one of those emails was a nude photo of me taken by an ex in 1994. My husband took the emails and photo to the local police.

But revenge porn wasn’t a crime in Nebraska. Fortunately, my husband worked for a government contractor, and his security clearance required him to report attempted blackmail. The FBI quickly got involved and the threats and harassment stopped. For us, the initial hopelessness and helplessness lasted less than one week. The fear continued, but we did our best to keep the picture private.

I was the one who went public. Five months later, I testified in the state legislature for a bill that would make revenge porn a crime in Nebraska. Before that happened, I was interviewed by newspaper and television reporters to bring attention to the need for this law. Hours after the article was published, the day I testified, my ex contacted the newspaper reporter. My fear increased, but a bill making revenge porn a crime became law. It was worth it.

An FBI agent interviewed me four months later. After answering his questions, I told him how terrified I was. He seemed surprised that I was still afraid.

In December 2019, the US government charged my ex with a threat to extort and cyberstalking. I texted a reporter who’d asked me to keep him up to date, and his station did a follow-up, as did the local paper. The Associated Press picked up that story, and it spread to newspapers across the country. I was interviewed by another local television station. Yesterday I saw my story on Newsweek.

That’s why I’m writing this.

You see, I was a fortunate victim. My entire family has been nothing but supportive. Our situation was resolved quickly. My picture was taken well before the digital cameras and cell phones that people use to blame the victim. I believe that makes speaking publicly easier for me than it may be for others.

Am I still afraid? Yes. Having talked about it so openly, the picture might now be the least of my fears. Someone I thought was permanently out of—and physically far from—my life lives 10 miles away, where he’s watched over 20 years of my life. Will I open the door one day and find him on my front porch?

Despite that, I’m one of the lucky ones. Women have lost their jobs and partners—an employer or family member received nude pictures, a loved one didn’t support them, law enforcement couldn’t or wouldn’t help them. I heard from a man who went through something similar, but the perpetrator was never identified. Too many young people are forced to deal with a vengeful person striking out in a way that will change their lives forever.

Because it’s more than a photo. It’s being afraid to trust.

During my most recent interview, I was asked what resources there are for women in this situation. I think what shamed me the most during this whole ordeal was not having a good answer to that question. Here is what I should have said:

The non-profit Cyber Civil Rights Initiative provides a 24-hour telephone hotline staffed by mental health professionals. They also provide more resources, including a list of attorneys willing to take cases for free.

Lifehacker’s What to Do If You're a Victim of Revenge Porn teaches you what you can—and what you should—do next.

Without My Consent’s checklist for victims would have given my husband and I a blueprint to follow during those first frantic days.

I was also asked what I would say to women who are in the situation I faced 15 months ago. I wanted to tell them that coming forward is the best choice; that the person who harmed them will be arrested; that they will be seen only as the victim of a crime, not a willing participant.

I can’t say that today. Hopefully someday I can.

Contributing Editor: Diane Parris

Diane Parris, a writer and mother of four, became a victim of revenge porn while managing her husband’s state senate campaign. After the election she testified in the Nebraska legislature about the need to criminalize nonconsensual pornography. Diane has given newspaper and television interviews about her experience.

Revenge porn is now illegal in Nebraska.

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