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T hree years ago, nude pictures of me made the rounds online. There were two and they had been taken in my bathroom several months earlier. One showed my stomach and my bare chest and nude photos exposed other was a long mirror shot of me topless, with my face on full display. I was even smiling — a gesture made for the eyes of my then long-distance boyfriend, to whom I had sent them via Facebook. But you never think it could happen to you. Surely the chances of something leaking are very small?
So, as time went on and our feelings grew stronger, I warmed up to the idea of sending him some sexy shots. After a long morning preparing How does my hair look? Which is the best angle? It is hard to describe my feelings in the moment I found out that boys were showing my pictures around my old school. In the days that followed, I remember feeling so helpless that I could not function. My older sister had to take care of me, reminding me to eat and holding me when I randomly burst into panicked tears.
It felt like a break-up, but instead of a broken heart, there was only shattered self-worth. As I received the news, my boyfriend, who still says he never shared the pictures, told me he was desperately attempting to track down the source of the leak. There was a long chain of finger-pointing that eventually led nowhere. He was trying to smother a fire that was spreading viciously and quickly. I was no longer in school when the pictures leaked, as I had graduated two years earlier. However, my younger sister was, and many of the boys who were distributing the pictures were her friends.
It was a close-knit community, the school I grew up in and often returned to — a place that until then had been full of only fond memories. More than half of UK teenagers have seen their friends share intimate images of someone they know, according to a survey by Childnet International.
Four in 10 say they have witnessed peers setting up groups on social media to share sexual gossip or images. Stories of online bullying, body shaming and teen suicides are reported on a regular basis. But behind every headline is a real girl. In the months that followed, I continued to blame myself.
I was told to get over it, that it could have been worse. I was scolded by a friend for sending the pictures in the first place. Returning home, I refused to go back to school for my annual visit. I avoided reunions and parties. I also approached my own friends with care, wondering if they had heard something through the grapevine.
Even when my younger sister finished school last summer, I had to force myself to attend her graduation. The large gathering of boys made me incredibly nervous and I found myself avoiding eye contact with every guy in the room. I kept asking the same question in my head: did you see my pictures too? The debate about sexual harassment, demonstrated by the Nude photos exposed movement, has started a positive discussion.
But where does online sexual harassment fit into this picture? It is now so embedded into our everyday digital lives that it has become normalised and, quite frankly, overlooked.
In her book Hate Crimes in CyberspaceDanielle Keats Citron writes about how victims are blamed for having poor online judgment, and some are accused of letting pictures leak merely for attention. Many men and boys, who would never dream of doing any of the acts Harvey Weinstein has been accused of, still think it acceptable to share naked pictures of strangers, as if the internet is exempt from social norms.
After regaining my energy, I spent every night online frantically trying to track down the original leak. My investigation came to an abrupt halt one evening when I was told that my nudes were originally on a larger online document that had been shared with even more boys. On it were more than 40 images of other girls at my school, collected throughout the years. Some featured young girls in their underwear, a few were completely naked. With the pace at which technology is advancing, including developments such as customised virtual reality pornography or AI-generated face-swap porn, this need is only becoming more urgent.
We cannot simply walk away and turn off our computers. I have come to terms with what happened, and most importantly, have stopped blaming myself. But one thought that still worries me three years on is whether my pictures linger in the dark cyber-void. I guess this is something I will just have to nude photos exposed to live with.
But for now, I will the fight, proudly wearing my own story on my sleeve for the very first time. Opinion Sexual harassment. This article is more than 3 years old. Sophia Ankel. When I sent intimate photos to a boyfriend, I never imagined the fallout. Sadly, my experience is increasingly common This article has won the Hugo Young Award, which champions political opinion writing among UK postgraduate journalism students.
Thu 22 Mar Online harassment of women at risk of becoming 'established norm', study finds. Reuse this content.Nude photos exposed
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