10 Ways To Protect Yourself Against Revenge Porn I Learned After My Best Male Friend Stole Naked Pictures And Secretly Recorded Other Women

With revenge porn kingpin Hunter Moore’s recent FBI arrest, reform has never been closer. I'm telling my story to help women act offensively and defensively to destroy this malicious enterprise.

Jan 28, 2014 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

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I never thought my best friend would violate my privacy, so I often left my computer open in the apartment.

In the same way that I don't advocate for abstinence-only sex education, I don't think revenge porn's existence is going to stop people from taking and sending naked photos. Frustrating as it is, men and women face different sets of social, emotional and professional consequences if their pictures leak.

I advocate for reform by holding the Hunter Moores of the world accountable for their actions, not by shaming and blaming victims into forever buttoning up their blouses.

Why? Because I am a survivor myself, and the person who victimized me was my best male friend of close to a decade.

Mike and I met my freshman year of high school and bonded in that soul-baring, secret-sharing way only outcasts can. We were each other’s closest confidantes, even above most of my female friends. As Mike and I grew older, our friendship grew stronger. I supported him through his struggles with his weight; he supported me through my string of romantic failures. People assumed we would wind up getting married. Instead, we moved in together as platonic friends a few years after graduating college.

Living with Mike was great, though that didn't come as a surprise. Since Mike and I were both only children, we filled the void of the sibling relationship with each other. I loved that Mike and I disproved the stereotype that a platonic friendship between a man and a woman could never truly exist. A few months after we moved in together, I even started dating someone seriously.

Happy as I was, I felt bad that Mike was still alone, a fact which only upset me because he expressed his sadness as a direct consequence of his singleness.

Even though he'd had professional success in New York, Mike still had trouble meeting women. His lack of self-confidence from past cruel comments about his weight still affected him, and he overcompensated in adulthood by occasionally behaving like, as I told him many times, "a pompous asshole." Despite his insecurities, I knew Mike was an awesome guy, deserving of someone who could get him to drop the bravado.

Which is why I was excited to learn that a mutual friend of ours was coming to visit New York to see him. Finally, here was the woman that my best male friend deserved.

Ashley was much younger than Mike, but was still more mature than he was. She was an ardent feminist and activist for children’s education, and I was confident that if she felt uncomfortable with their age difference, she never would have hooked up with him. Their relationship had taken various forms over the years, and I knew that she wanted to lose her virginity to Mike. I’d heard from both of them how much they liked one another, and we planned to spend the weekend double-dating with my boyfriend, telling stories about people from our hometown.

When Ashley arrived, however, Mike’s behavior did a complete 180.

He spent most of his time locked up in his room, saying he was “too tired” to go out. Of course, I was happy to spend time with Ashley alone, but everyone knew she had come to New York to see Mike, and I couldn’t understand his avoidant rude behavior. One night after another, Mike blew us off.

Ashley was understandably upset, so I invited her to a party in hopes of at least partly salvaging her trip. I invited Mike as well, but he declined, texting Ashley a condescending “Run along now and play with your friends.” I knew Mike could be a jerk at times, but I’d never seen him act like this.

Midway through the party, Ashley broke down into sobs.

“I know why he’s avoiding me," Ashley heaved through her tears. "He’s scared.”

Ashley wiped her face and looked at me. “I have to tell you something."

“OK,” I said, unnerved.

“Did you ever send naked pictures to Mike?”

“No,” I said. “Absolutely not!” Was she jealous, thinking Mike and I had something going on?

“That’s what I thought,” she continued -- and then she let the bomb drop, forever changing my relationship with the man I thought was my best friend.

“Mike has dozens of pictures of you," Ashley said. "And he’s shown them to me, even after I asked not to see them."

I was stunned, but she kept going. It kept getting worse.

"You’re not the only one," she said. "He has hundreds of naked photos of different girls, some, he claims were sent to him, others I know he stole. He hides cameras. Be careful. He leaves his phone or digital camera in the bathroom when he knows women are showering, or in their bedrooms when they’re getting dressed. He leaves them on record and later says he left them there accidentally. He’s obsessed with his collection. Those photos are everywhere. I don’t know about yours, but I know other women’s are. He has photos of me, too. I've been afraid to tell you because then he'd publish mine, for revenge. I'm so sorry."

I shook, unable to speak as I faced the reality that the person closest to me for the past decade had violated every part of me and our friendship -- if he'd ever even been a real friend.

My stomach churned wondering how many people had seen the photos of me Mike had stolen. Most humiliating to me was the idea that, in addition to the photos I’d meticulously edited and felt confident enough to send to my boyfriend at the time, he also had my outtakes, my embarrassing failed attempts at sexuality.

My first instinct was to care for Ashley, who in her youth and inexperience not only thought Mike really loved her, but wanted to protect him along with herself.

In navigating the sexual and romantic landscapes for the first time, we all stumble. The moment you realize men do not always have your best intentions at heart is an agonizing experience. But Mike had done much more than that. He'd intentionally and meticulously found a way to manipulate Ashley through a fabrication of romantic feelings, and he'd terrified her into silence. Ashley had been equally victimized by Mike in a different way.

"I was abused,” Ashley said measuredly. I can still hear this last sentence, the way she emphasized each word, eyes widened in a moment of comprehension that, unfortunately, had come too late.

When we got home, I took three sleeping pills and passed out. When I woke up, Ashley and her suitcase were gone.

I waited in the kitchen, shaking, until Mike came in.

"What would you say," I asked him, concentrating on keeping my voice steady, "If I told you that every secret you ever told Ashley, every sick ruse you used, I found out about last night? I know all of it. And if there’s anything I don’t know, you’d better tell me now. If I find out about it later, I’ll destroy your entire life without thinking twice.”

“Oh, my God,” was all Mike could choke out. “I’m so–-"

“Screwed,” I cut him off. “I know about the other women you filmed, and I know about the photos. Tell me how you got mine.”

He seemed eerily casual, and then he answered.

"I was taking some music off your iTunes, and I saw some stuff," he said.

I was still shaking, though I was unable to tell if from fear or rage.

Mike continued, "And I took some photos off your computer. I hate myself for doing it. The disgust you feel, right now, is the disgust I feel when I think of what I did. I deleted all of them. All the videos are gone. And I got help. I had a problem, and I got help."

I asked more questions, in a daze. Mike admitted to everything.

“I can’t even look at you,” I sobbed. "You’re sick. You are not the person I thought you were. Get out of my house.”

***

When I confided in my mother and a few friends about what had happened, I didn’t anticipate the inner turmoil and confusion I would face.

As a lifelong advocate for survivors of sexual abuse, I’d always celebrated the incarceration of other people’s perpetrators -– so why was I suddenly so hypocritical and conflicted in facing my own? Life became a series of questions: Should I go through his computer? Did I even want to know what I might find there? Did I have a legal, much less moral, obligation to do so?

What if Mike committed suicide, as he’d threatened to do so many times in his adolescence, if I revealed what he'd done? How many other girls were there? Didn’t they have a right to know what had happened to them? And, most of all, was I glad Ashley had told me?

I wanted to believe Mike could, and already had, changed. That we were still, and would always be, friends. But I knew, deep down, I was lying to myself.

My therapist reminded me that while he may have had genuine intentions about rehabilitation, the threat of relapse is always there. I didn’t want to be victimized a second time. I wanted to leave so badly, but I couldn’t afford to move out, and didn’t feel I should be the one to have to. I was forced to live with him until our lease ran out, unable to ever really relax, my already nearly crippling anxiety tripling. I was afraid to shower, afraid to have female friends over, and even afraid to use the toilet.

I thought about breaking into Mike's room and going through his computer, about throwing it in the bathtub or smashing it with a hammer. I thought about calling his mother, posting his crimes on social media, reporting to his place of work.

Ironically in a case of revenge porn, revenge fantasies became my only solace.

But I never acted on any of them. I was too afraid of what I might discover, or that any actions I took would only lead to him further publicizing the images, whether my own or another unknowing victim’s.

When he moved out a few months later, neither one of us said goodbye. Now, I live alone, and though I am sometimes frightened, I still feel safer than I ever did living with him.

***

Here's what I learned from my experience -- to fight back against revenge porn.

#1: Educate the men in your life. Talk to your brothers, male friends, and sons about revenge porn and the consequences it has for women.

#2: If there's a password-protect feature on your computer, applications, photos, etc: use it. And make sure your password isn't easily guessed. It sounds like a no-brainer, but remember -- if a close friend/partner is interested in hacking you, they may be able to guess it if you used, say, an old address or the name of your first pet. There are dozens of online articles listing the most common passwords. Make sure yours isn't on it.

#3: Delete everything. Purge old emails with attachments to the photos, then be sure to empty the recycle bin.

#4: Consistently update your software. While frequently upgrading your firewalls, operating systems, and antivirus software won't always outsmart the most technologically savvy of hackers, it will pack a punch against less experienced ones.

#5: Watch for warning signs on your webcam. We all know Skype sessions often go on the fritz, but if your camera is consistently blinking or lighting up for brief or extended periods when not in use, something isn’t right.

#6: If you're not using your computer, shut it off completely. Nowadays it's possible for webcam hackers to remotely activate your camera. If your computer isn't on, you're less at risk.

#7: Purchase a webcam cover sticker. Post-it Notes are a cheaper option, but they often don't cover everything fully and can damage the lens of your webcam. Camjamr.com seems to have the most variety and best prices.

#8: Stay off sketchy sites. Be aware that illegal downloading and streaming sites often prompt you to download applications that can sometimes remotely access your computer.

#9: Purchase webcam protection software. This is for the more paranoid among us, a class of which I am admittedly, a member.

#10: If you've been hacked, don't blame yourself. First of all, I am so sorry. Please remember you did nothing to deserve this, you are not at fault, and you are survivor, even if right now you feel like a victim. There are multiple sites for survivors, like withoutmyconsent.org. and endrevengeporn.org. Connect with other survivors and learn about your legal options. The incomparable Charlotte Laws has spoken about copyrighting your photos and images through the US copyright office, as this can make legal loopholes more difficult to wiggle through. It costs around $40. Write to your state representatives. Urge them to take action and review the legislation to reflect the digital age.

I commend the tireless and fearless activists who made Hunter Moore's recent arrest possible. And I feel satisfied knowing that, wherever Mike is, he saw that news, and he shifted in his seat wondering if I, or someone else, would expose him.

And you know what? I just might.