Cyber Rape. Revenge Porn.

rape

Mandy Schmidt*, a 21-year-old college student from the western suburbs, was involved with a man 10 years her senior. The two were ‘friends with benefits.’ As they spent less time together, Ms. Schmidt received a threat from her former sex partner: “I have so much [expletive deleted] against you, I could expose you for what you really are.”

As Ms. Schmidt spent even less time with her former partner, the threats became more frequent and frightening. When she refused to visit her former flame in the spring of last year and ended their relationship, things took a turn for the worse.

“He said payback is a bitch, someone would be punished and I’d learn the next time,” details Ms. Schmidt. “He said I was a slut and a whore and told me, ‘I’m going to prove to people you aren’t the goody type. I don’t care if I tell your family, your friends, whatever.’”

Ms. Schmidt then discovered her pictures on a revenge porn website and was brought to tears. “I was pretty shocked,” she says, “and also shocked my Facebook page was attached to it. I didn’t think he would actually go that far to do something like that. At first I thought I could trust him.” Aside from her parents discovering the website, Ms. Schmidt’s worst fear is that the dream of being a teacher will be ruined because she was the victim of cyber rape.

Like Ms. Schmidt, Ms. Johnson fears a family member, friend or co-worker could find her nude photos online. “I’m waiting for someone to say, ‘I saw you on the site,’” she says. “I’m afraid just walking into a store. I’m afraid someone I know is going to see the photos and think different of me…think I posted them.” She initially wanted to turn to police, but just the thought of more people knowing her secret has kept her quiet. “I’ve been embarrassed enough with the whole world seeing these pictures, I didn’t want show the police,” says Ms. Johnson. “As much I want to stop it, I don’t want any more people to see the pictures.”

REVENGE FLIP FLOPS
While revenge porn leads to shame and humiliation of the victim, in some cases it can lead to irrational actions toward those who threaten to publish private pictures, thereby turning them into a victim. A few months ago, an 18-year-old Matteson woman and her parents were accused of kidnapping/assaulting her former boyfriend because he threatened to post naked pictures of her on the Internet after a dispute on a social networking site.

The teen allegedly lured the 19-year-old Richton Park man to her home, where five people wearing ski masks and holding weapons were waiting. The victim was then blindfolded, beaten and photographed naked to ensure nude pictures of his ex-girlfriend wouldn’t be posted online. He was able to escape and seek help from police.

In addition to legitimate concerns about invasion of privacy, harassment and stalking, Ms. Majmudar says revenge porn can have a lasting psychological impact on everyone involved, and the aftermath of cyber rape is often similar to physical rape (feelings of shame, helplessness, fear). She encourages women to seek counseling from an organization like Rape Victim Advocates. “It’s not harmless,” says Ms. Majmudar of cyber rape. “It perpetuates this idea that women who consent to have sex, even once, supposedly lose all rights to any kind of ethical behavior on the part of their sexual partner, and that’s just wrong.”

For Ms. Johnson, a moment of indiscretion is now leading to months – maybe years – of fear, anxiety and anger. She prays other women will learn from her story and think before they hit send. “There are so many different ways this could go wrong,” she insists. “People take it as a joke, and it’s not…I wouldn’t take that chance again.”

The dangers of sending nude photos to someone are obvious. You’re exposing yourself to embarrassment, heartbreak and disappointment. And with the advent of ‘revenge porn’ websites, the risk has increased to harassment, stalking and the justifiable fear that these pictures will be used against you professionally or personally. In this digital age some people can’t say they wouldn’t send nude photos. But once you hit send, they never go away. Is that something you want to live with?

*Sarah Johnson and Mandy Schmidt are pseudonyms provided by Frank Holland.

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Frank_Holland

About Frank Holland

Joining WGN News/WGN Morning News as a reporter/anchor in September 2011, Frank Holland previously worked for WDIV-NBC in Detroit, Michigan, New 12 in Westchester, New York, WMGM-NBC in Atlantic City, New Jersey, TV2-FOX in the U.S. Virgin Islands and KTVF-NBC and KUAC-PBS in Fairbanks, Alaska.