Strong Women, Weak Men, and Cyber Exploitation

I have tried to write this several times over last few days since the Katie Hill story broke. If you’re not familiar with Hill, she’s the newcomer congresswoman who recently resigned after her estranged, abusive husband released nude photos of her in a (successful) attempt to shame her and derail her career, i.e. she was the victim of revenge porn.

My attempts to write out my experience, similar in many ways to Hill’s with exception to the fact that I wasn’t a public figure nor was the name “revenge porn” even a thing yet, have left me frustrated and I’ve walked away from it several times.

I write how I was in a long-term marriage with a manipulative abuser, and I bore even myself. I’ve written more about that than I can stomach, yet, honestly, I’ve barely touched on it.

I write about how my friends had to take shifts staying at my house or having me at their homes while my children stayed with a grandparent because the man I had left was making very credible threats of violence toward me with zero cares how it would ultimately affect his own life, and I become annoyed with the melodrama of it all.

I lay down multiple keystrokes of theatrical text about my experience, specifically some of the goings on of 2002, and I want to throw my laptop across the room. It all feels so distant, happening seventeen years ago, but at the same time it’s distant at all, especially since, to this day, I never really know when my ex is going to careen down some weird path that leads him to my blog and have him interpret something that has zero to do with him as an attack, which will then trigger him into blowing up my phone or my comment section with yet another new account to tell “his side” of the story in multiple, barely coherent paragraphs. Seventeen years after our divorce, I’m still not rid of him.

When I finally was strong enough and in a position to end the marriage for good – because there were a few failed attempts where I was drawn back in with pleas of “it will be better this time” of course – simply stating that my then-husband would not accept it would be an understatement. One of the things he chose to do in the immediate aftermath was to create a public profile in a chat community I was active in, posting multiple pictures of he and I in compromising positions.

While still begging (demanding) that I give this marriage another chance “or else,” he chose to engage in what is now referred to as revenge porn.

He named the profile “Betty_does_it_ALL” as my longtime online moniker was Betty, and apparently this was supposed to paint me, the woman who did it all (with her husband?), as a common whore.

He built this online profile posing as me and posted a link to it repeatedly in multiple regional chat rooms. He linked it over and over in any online message board or chat client that I may have visited while beckoning people to check out this dirty slut, look at these pictures of her having sex. His intent was to embarrass and shame me.

And it did. I was ashamed. When I was alerted by a friend that this new X-rated web presence of mine existed (“Are you sitting down…?” she asked), I went to the url she sent to me via an instant message app, I clicked on it, and I came the closest I have ever come to fainting, my vision tunneling to nearly black before returning, and a noise I barely recognized as myself escaped my lips.

I vividly remember that feeling, just going cold and staring at the floor before looking up again and making myself look at all the pictures, some of which my husband was also easily identifiable in but he would later claim wasn’t him, which actually made me laugh. I laughed once the initial shock wore off from debilitating to just, you know, horrific, humiliating, and all the other feelings of being betrayed to such a bizarre and surreal level.

It was a truly crazy feeling, knowing that everyone in my online community had clicked on this link and seen these photos. So many men messaged me and apologized and promised that they didn’t even click the link or that they did and closed it right away once they realized what was going on. I didn’t believe them at the time or, really, now.

A girlfriend of mine, in her dry way of trying to make me feel better said, “Well….at least they were flattering.” Again, I had to laugh.

And the thing is, I was hardly an introvert, I wasn’t shy, quite the opposite. But does it matter? It was such a violation to have these images, photographs that were taken in private with the man I had been married to for over a decade, made public with the intention of degrading me as a woman, as a human being. I was powerless to stop it, powerless to delete them, powerless to keep people from viewing my naked body that was engaged in acts that were meant to be only seen by my then-estranged, now ex-spouse.

Throughout the course of the next few days after these photos were made public, the situation became more volatile, ending with him being intercepted by his coworkers and given the choice to turn over the three firearms he had with him in his office and commit himself to a mandatory 72-hour hold at a psychiatric facility or they would call the police and have him arrested – he had a choice, now nice. He chose the prior. And, the following week, he was instructed by…someone – I don’t know, perhaps a therapist, I’m sure it wasn’t law enforcement – to remove my pictures from online and hand me the memory card that they were on.

But I know how this works. I know the internet is forever. I know there could have been multiple memory cards, so while I feel like those pictures would have turned up by now had this been something that was going to happen, but there’s always the possibility that they’ll resurface…if I run for office. If I gain any sort of weird fame. If someone just feels like being a vindictive jerk because they can’t move the heck on with their lives. Who knows.

And this used to really trouble me. Because, again, Jesus Christ, I was violated.

But I’m older now. My “give a damn” energy has waned. Should the pictures come out? Cool. Do your worst, really. It was a 20 year younger body in those photos and maybe now I’ll go, “Damn, and I thought I had no business being naked in public? LOOK AT ME!”

Nude photos of me aren’t going to harm me in any way. Not now. If nude photos of me are put back online, they’ll be in good company now because I’ve had nude photos taken of me SINCE that incident. I’ve posted them on semi-public forums like video game message boards along with my other “guildmates” The difference being that I chose to do this. I chose to share myself with others rather than have it used as a weapon to hurt me.

It’s my body. I get to chose how and with whom I share it.

And, if that does happen, the pictures my ex-husband weaponized turning back up, I will still have people try to shame me for it. Because I should have “known better.” If I didn’t want naked pictures of me out there for the world to see, I should have kept my clothes on, right?

Women are held to this ridiculous standard of how we should behave as opposed to how men are able to move about the world. They want us naked, they want our sex, but goddammit, should you scorn them…

Hell, I had a taste of what men do when they’re slighted back in high school. My boyfriend dumped me to date another girl (who, laughably, wanted no part in it…woops!), and when I went out  with a boy to the movies ONCE, he and his idiot friends started calling me “SIB” which was short for “syphilis infected bitch” for having the audacity to go out with another boy so soon after being dumped…for another woman (did I mention that she didn’t want anything to do with him? Good stuff).  They decided that I was the whore.

Boy men learn early, don’t they? They start this shit in childhood.

Women continue to be targeted to have their reputations destroyed public sexual shaming. Women are whores, men “play the field.” There’s a “purity” requirement of women that just isn’t there for men, even subconsciously at times in people who consider themselves otherwise progressive. It’s sad, really.

So, I am basically nobody, I’m not a public figure, but I can relate to Katie Hill, how she found herself in the position of being victimized by an estranged, abusive husband who refused to just move on like a functional adult. I can empathize with what it’s like to be held hostage by photos taken while you were vulnerable and have them used as a weapon against you.

Someone made the point that what happened to Hill “just sends a signal to other women that’s discouraging them from running for office.”

The wrong people are being punished when this happens, but when is that going to change?

From the looks of our recent news cycle, we’re not any closer to the right answer than we were twenty years ago.

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