Sunday Longread: I don’t know if I’m a victim

An anonymous writer shares their story of facing image-based sexual abuse

This article contains mentions of abuse, child abuse, and image-based sexual abuse

Normally when you text your ex, it’s when you’re inebriated or seeking some sort of closure. This case was different. I never wanted to speak to him again. But I sat, staring at the neon screen, trying to put an impossible question into words. I tried to think of his thought process when he read my text. Would he see it as an accusation or a desperate attempt to get in contact? We didn’t end on the best terms this would be our first conversation in nearly a year. I felt both present yet absent from my body all at once. My hand was trembling; I drafted a text for what seemed like hours and prepared myself to hit the send button. It was almost an essay’s worth of “I know you’re not like that,” and “It’s been a while, I know…” all to ask one thing: did you share images of me that I sent to you?

Throughout the month of November, Ireland had been shocked with the discovery of several Discord servers, Google Drives and other online forums that have been sharing explicit images of women. Included were all kinds of women; women who were under the impression that their images would not be shared with thousands of strangers; women who were coerced, manipulated, blackmailed; women who had their images stolen, their work stolen. Some were underage. Whole folders dedicated to “16 y/o” were found amongst these files. Yes, Ireland was shocked. But it’s almost as if no one cared unless they were directly involved. What is worse, is that some people are still trying to undermine the situation. They’re saying that Ireland is a good place, a good society; that women should be grateful. To me, Ireland has never been a country where it is safe to be a woman. 

I was a victim before this leak. I wasn’t a woman in the images that were shared of me. I was a child. I am 15 in those photographs. At 15 years old, you don’t think that your boyfriend would pass around your pictures like trading cards. At 15, I wasn’t aware that anyone could be that cruel. Even writing this, I’m trying to think of the first time I heard of nude images being leaked. I suppose the first time I heard of it was in 2014, when the infamous iCloud leak of celebrities exposed their explicit images to the entire world, but I don’t think anyone fully understood the implications of this. I had a form of protection: I was nobody. Why would anyone want to share my picture? Why would the person I presumed I loved do this to me? There was nothing I could do. I internalised it and kept it hidden. I didn’t realise how badly it affected me until this November.

There are the people who pretend to care for the social media clout and there are the people who stay silent”

I don’t know if these images are in the files that were discovered. I may never know.  I found out I was a victim through someone texting me and saying my name was in several files. I don’t know where the files are. I don’t know what pictures of me are being spread around. I don’t know who sent them. When approaching the Gardaí, they told me that I had to have the source of the leak in order to make a report. “How can I have the source?” I asked. “You told us not to look at the files, only to forward on the links.” Everywhere I look, there is a wall of skepticism. There is no real sympathy. There are the people who pretend to care for the social media clout and there are the people who stay silent. I don’t want to paint those who are silent as complicit, but it feels like a slap in the face that social media is so loud about movements like Movember but is so quiet when thousands of women and children are crying out for help.

I shouldn’t have to reduce myself to a sister, a daughter, a mother, a wife or a girlfriend. I am a human being”

I wanted to scream whenever I saw someone aimlessly say “not all men” or “I don’t see how being silent means I don’t support you”. What allowed for these files to be created was silence. What allows for these abuses to continue is silence. Accountability: it’s the bare minimum that so many women, including myself, want. And for some reason, that’s not an achievable goal. I shouldn’t have to reduce myself to a sister, a daughter, a mother, a wife or a girlfriend. I am a human being. I am a woman. Why doesn’t my existence warrant respect? The harmful communications and related offences bill (2017) does not put women on a pedestal or above men at all. It is a gender-neutral law that will protect everyone. Why are men so opposed to women being protected? Why did the Garda Commissioner underplay what happened to us?

I don’t think I’ll ever find out if I’m a victim of this leak. I don’t have faith in the Gardaí. I shouldn’t have to call ex-partners to beg and plead with them to delete any intimate photographs they have of me on their phone. The thought of leaking someone’s photos shouldn’t be a reality. But it is. It feels like it’s impossible to combat and it feels like I should give up and let this misogynistic wave drown me. I’m not giving up hope though. I’m making as much noise as I can. All I can hope is that other people will too.

If you or someone you know has been affected by IBSA, you can use the following websites/helplines;

Women’s Aid Ireland

Revenge Porn Helpline UK

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre

Samaritans Ireland

End IBSA Facebook

End IBSA Instagram