IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Caught My Boyfriend Posting Revenge Porn of His Ex-Girlfriend

I didn't even know it was a crime until I discussed it with a coworker.
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Melissa Henderson
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I didn't even know it was a crime until I discussed it with a coworker.

I was thumbing through my Instagram feed at 1 a.m. to catch up on the day's posts when I saw the most horrifying video I could have ever witnessed on my then-boyfriend Jacob's* account. It was a girl shaking her ass in a thong and bra with her back turned towards the camera. Her hair was wet; it looked like she just got out of the shower. 

The video was less than 20 seconds of footage of this girl — his ex-girlfriend — twerking for the camera; however, the captions told the whole story. There were several tags and hashtags of very recognizable social organizations and workplaces, as well as the girl's Instagram handle. It didn't take long for me to figure out that this video was definitely meant to cause some harm or shame.

Ten minutes later, I called Jacob; I got to no answer. I followed up with a text to find out what the hell was going on and why this highly suggestive video had appeared on his Instagram.

"Hey, is everything OK? What's up with that video?" I immediately got to the point.

"Naw, it's war. My ex did some fucked up shit," he replied. "Can't talk right now. I'm heated."

"What does that mean? Are you OK? Do you need me?" I texted back. 

He didn't respond to me, so I decided to let whatever was going on marinate for the night. Besides, it was well into the night, and I didn't need images of Jacob's ex disturbing my sleep. But the next day is when shit really hit the fan.

On the subway ride to work, I checked his Instagram to see if the video was still there, and to my amazement, it was. I rushed to my office, dropped my bag at my desk and frantically ran over to my coworker's desk to show her the video. Her jaw dropped. She couldn't believe it either.

"Girl, he tagged her sorority chapters and job?! Damn, he's grimy!" Her reaction made me more upset.

"Yes. This is crazy," I said. "He was super-short with me, talking about 'he's at war' or something with this chick." I showed her the text messages he sent me the previous night.

She swiveled around in her office chair, opened her laptop, and began the most epic Google search I'd ever seen. This was just fun and games for my coworker, but I was nervous about what information she would find based on just that Instagram post. In less than five minutes, we found a link to Jacob's ex's LinkedIn page, her Facebook page, her sorority chapter, and the exact location of where she was employed in California — just from the hashtags and her personal Instagram handle listed under the near-naked twerking video on my then boyfriend's post. (Did I mention her Instagram page was public at that time?)

I was so confused. Had Jacob been talking to his ex-girlfriend the whole time we'd been dating? At that point, I hadn't really heard too much about her. Everything was going really well in our relationship from a communication standpoint, I'd thought. We were in contact with each other frequently, we saw each other on a weekly basis, and a few days earlier, he had even posted a picture of me on his Instagram, declaring to the world that we were a thing. In my eyes, it was a small gesture of making our relationship public. In retrospect, though, I think it might have sparked to all of this drama.

My work colleague concluded he was crazy as she slammed her laptop shut and started to make her way to the conference room for our morning meeting.

Eventually, Jacob ended up deleting the video, but it was up for 36 hours. By then, it was too late. The damage was already done. Not only did he violate the privacy of his ex-girlfriend, he also damaged our relationship. 

Who was this dude I met just three months prior? Would he do this to me too if I pissed him off? I had never shared with him a video like the one he'd posted of his ex, but there were times, where he'd asked me — as we were having sex — if he could record us having sex. I said absolutely not; that was creepy to me. And shouldn't something as personal as recording a sex act be discussed in a serious conversation beforehand?

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Months later, when I was able to finally speak openly about the relationship with one of my colleagues, I learned the video my now-ex posted was called revenge porn — a term I'd never heard before — and that it was illegal to do that in many states. Not only was I surprised, but with some quick research on the phrase, I learned that a lot of victims of revenge porn are often deeply impacted by the act, that there are loose laws protecting online rights, and that the perpetrators are rarely penalized for the crime.

What kind of person has the audacity to use someone's sexuality to cause damage or get revenge?

According to the Cyber Civil Rights Institute, revenge porn "is somewhat misleading. Many perpetrators are not motivated by revenge or by any personal feelings toward the victim. A more accurate term is nonconsensual pornography, defined as the distribution of sexually graphic images of individuals without their consent. This includes both images originally obtained without consent (e.g. by using hidden cameras, hacking phones, or recording sexual assaults) as well as images consensually obtained within the context of an intimate relationship."

Since 2014, 34 states (plus DC) have started to recognize revenge porn as a crime, and each state has its own legal terminology to describe what constitutes revenge porn without actually mentioning the phrase in the official law. New York, the state where shit hit the fan in my situation, currently has no laws for revenge porn. According to a report published by the New York Law School, "some news sources, politicians, and even Governor Cuomo have erroneously claimed that a 'revenge porn law' passed in New York State on August 1, 2014." However this is untrue. In fact, according to the New York State Senate website, the bill is still in assembly, which means it's still being voted upon.

To this day, I still do not know the full truth about what happened between Jacob and his ex. Perhaps it's none of my business, but I do know that Jacob made an unexpected trip to California, where his ex lives, the day after he posted the video, apparently to file a restraining order against her because she was allegedly spreading rumors about Jacob at his workplace. During this incident, she never reached out to me, and I didn't reach out to her. We didn't know each other, yet we were both affected by the situation. 

Hopefully, legislative change is on the horizon. In California Gov. Jerry Brown introduced and passed Senate Bill 1255, which is titled "Disorderly conduct: unlawful distribution of image." Since the bill's passing in 2014, there have been several amendments to reflect technological trends, like selfies and social media platforms. What's groundbreaking about California's law is that the language protects images that were intentionally distributed with the idea that they would be kept private; based on many cyber-security surveys, victims of revenge porn intentionally distribute images with the belief that they will never be shared with anyone else other than the intentional recipient. This is one of the only laws that explicitly focuses on the distribution of images to another party or digital platform without consent. Furthermore, just last month, Hillary Clinton vowed to crack down on revenge porn if she is elected.

Many states protect the rights of people before the act is committed, but when it comes to revenge porn as a crime, that's where things get complicated. Perpetrators can make the case that their phone was hacked or they can simply delete what they originally posted. If the victim has no screenshots as proof, then it's even harder to get justice. 

Within the revenge-porn laws, there's language that covers the privacy of citizens and prohibits the distribution of images without consent. Still, there are loopholes. Research from the Cyber Civil Rights Institute report that 80 percent of revenge porn involves photos taken by the victims themselves. So you'd think that the 34 states that do have revenge-porn laws would include language that protects the victim's photos. Nope! Some states just include basic privacy and harassment language that is related to cyber-bullying, which is an after-effect of revenge porn.

Meanwhile, while I'm trying to figure out what the hell I can do to put an end to this type of behavior online. I start to recount all the times I've sent suggestive photos to friends or photos friends have taken of me while I was intoxicated. I also think about celebrities whose nudes have been leaked online by hackers and how little justice they received.

As we become more connected by wires and less connected by physical interactions, people seem to think that what happens online shouldn't have offline consequences; that online threats and harsh language somehow aren't as harmful. Universal rules of online etiquette need to become like second nature. Everyone knows that peeing in public is gross and illegal, but not everyone knows that posting unauthorized nudes online is illegal. I didn't know revenge porn was a crime until someone told me. 

The power lies in educating ourselves on what constitutes harmful, criminal internet interactions. The power lies with our lawmakers to protect the rights of their constituents. The power lies with victims — and witnesses — of revenge porn telling their stories.