PERSONAL
22/04/2021 11:06 BST

‘Revenge Porn’ Ruined My Teen Years. Now I’m Fighting Back

The image-based sexual abuse I lived through leaves scars. But women like me must refuse to be shamed.

I sent my first explicit image to a man when I was 12. 

He was 18, and I didn’t know what “sexting” was, let alone image-based sexual abuse. He developed an obsessive attachment to me and pressed me to continue sending him images.

At the time I was at an Irish Catholic secondary school, and the messages I could see around me about what was ‘normal’ sexual behaviour were unanimously toxic: butt-grabbing by my male peers, a gaping lack of adequate sexual health education. Looking back, the culture around me held all the ingredients for sexual exploitation.

At the start, I didn’t know who to turn to, or how to respond. So I kept sending images. I felt that to not do this would be a betrayal to myself and to him. It felt like homework. Something that had to be done because I wanted to be this impressive, unique person that always pleases and never says no, even when it was shaping the way I  thought about myself and the way I would allow others to view me.Things escalated into an intense, ongoing grooming routine.

What I want people to understand is what this abuse can do to a 14-year-old – and what it can leave you with long into the future. This grooming changed my easily warped, pubescent brain to believe hypersexualised opinions of myself and my freshly discovered sexuality. All of this came together in a perfect whirlwind, leading to an abusive loss of my virginity. 

I want people to understand what this abuse can do to a 14-year-old – and what it can leave you with long into the future.

Afterwards, my female friends – drawing on their equally skewed sexual education, lack of awareness of rape culture and the fear of social ostracisation – turned their backs on me. Simultaneously, my male peers took their turns receiving sexual favours from me.

This situation spiralled further out of control when I was sent a screenshot of a fake account on Facebook. On the page, someone had uploaded some leaked images of me – 14-year-old me – in my innocent black short underwear and bland, cupped bra. 

I could only watch as the fake account tagged my entire class in the comments, and as my peers made jokes, comments, slurs. They seemingly revelled in what was happening on this thread – what was happening to me. A month after the leak, someone messaged the nudes to my parents. I remember feeling nothing but emptiness. 

When I remember how numb and emotionally traumatised I was throughout this period of time, it scares me. This feels reflective of how far-gone my consent and self-capacity had become. There is nothingthat I could have done to protect myself. I was 14, and in desperate need of a protective system. But I didn’t receive any support – from the police, the school, society. 

Instead, I was hunted down by our neighbourhood; called names, judged, shamed. Friends were told by their parents to avoid me. My grandmother overheard in the supermarket “that’s the grandma of that slut.” My mother was followed by boys in cars who would yell out of their windows about me to her. Meanwhile, the police couldn’t prove who had created the false account, or get it taken down.

I believe changing the sexual health curriculum to include consent and sexual abuse is essential to rewriting the narrative.

My family was hurting, but I couldn’t feel a thing. I had experienced such a high level of exploitation and abuse at this point that I didn’t see it as an issue. When survivors react in this way, it doesn’t make us irresponsible or prove anything about whether we put ourselves in that position. It is a psychologically-proven reaction to immense trauma and requires therapy and help and empathetic understanding – something that I lacked for a considerable amount of time after the experiences. 

I don’t blame the people close to me for struggling with their anger and frustration – after all, systemic rape culture and victim-blaming has existed for generations. Internalised misogyny lives in all of us and it is down to all of us to recognise it and change our opinions and actions. That’s why I believe changing the sexual health curriculum to include consent and sexual abuse is essential to rewriting the narrative. 

I struggled to stop resorting to detrimental and self-destructive hypersexuality until I was 17 – but when I broke through my walls in therapy, I cried big and gasping sobs of grief. 

My experience with rape culture and image-based sexual abuse has now filled me with a passion to train in supporting survivors of sexual abuse. I’ve created an online Instagram space where I chat and support survivors of rape culture, and I’m working with the @myimagemychoice campaign to ask for new laws and policy that listens to, protects, and supports victims. 

When people become victims of these offences, I want them to know that it’s not their fault.

When people become victims of these offences, I want them to know that it’s not their fault. And I want them to know that no matter the abuse you’ve experienced, you can develop a beautiful, flourishing, affirming sexuality.

This abuse isn’t something that happens, and can be dealt with, at once. It leaves scars. It leaves an imprint in the perception of those who witnessed it, and is often part of an abusive culture that can go on to hurt us even more. 

But every single victim who, from the privacy of her bedroom or pages of a national newspaper, refuses to be shamed adds to the tidal wave of change.

Wren is a survivor of image-based sexual abuse. This article was co-written with Sophie from #myimagemychoice, a campaign calling on the UK government to change law and policy on intimate image abuse. For more information, visit their petition here.

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