What It’s Really Like To Be The Victim Of Revenge Porn

Have you ever seen an embarrassing photo of yourself? You know the type. A notification pops up on Facebook and you can’t un-tag yourself fast enough because that face you’re making is just the worst. Now, imagine that notification popping up, but this time when you open it you see something you can’t unsee. Something criminal, and sadly, something everyone else can see now too. I got one of those notifications once.  I saw a girl who was naked and unconscious. She is a daughter, a girlfriend, an activist, and an adventurer. Her name is Chrissy Chambers. She is me. I am a victim of revenge pornography, and this is my story. 

In 2009, my ex-boyfriend filmed himself sexually assaulting me while I was unconscious. I was young (18), innocent, and in love for the first time. He was six years older, jealous, controlling, and as it turns out, dangerously obsessed. It lasted a year before I suggested that we take a break. It was poisonous. He didn’t take it well and was furious at me for “not loving him enough.” I was devastated; I loved him very much and I still cared about him but it was so hard now, his energy was toxic. He decided to go back to England, but suggested we have a night of drinking before he left. I was underage and had never been drunk before, and he wanted to play a drinking game. Young and innocent, I trusted him. It’s hard to know what to do when you’re young, hurting, and in love. I don’t remember much from the night once I started drinking, but I was blacked out and intoxicated by the time he pulled out his camera.  I wouldn’t find out what happened to me that night for another 4 years.

The week I found out about the videos was a blur for me, yet when I stop and think about it, it feels like every thought, emotion, and detail is permanently sealed in my memory, paying visits during nightmares or when I am having to retell the story to law enforcement, to legal advisors, to other survivors and now, to you. Revisiting that moment is painful, but I know staying silent hurts much worse.

I remember a friend alerting me that there were links with my full name posted all over the Internet, calling me a slut and a bad role model. Clicking on the link… It felt like I was being hit in the chest with a baseball bat. I couldn’t catch my breath. It didn’t seem real. I felt horrible for this girl, abused and laid bare, unknowing. Denial raced through me as a defense mechanism but it quickly dawned on me that this wasn’t some other person I could feel sorry for. It was me.

It took a long time for me to feel happy again but eventually, with the help of a lot of therapy and a lot of love, I found my strength. 

Bria and I met in September 2011, I know it sounds cliché, but I truly felt like I knew right away she could be the one. She took my breath away, so full of life, amazingly talented, and fiercely loyal to her heart. We started a YouTube Channel, aptly named BriaandChrissy, where we post music, comedy sketches, advice videos, and personal stories. In three years, we have become the most popular ‘lesbian content’ creators on YouTube. We use our platform to spread awareness about LGBTQ equality, women’s rights, anti-bullying, acceptance, and loving yourself.

As you can imagine, our audience consists of mostly young people. The majority of them are female, and many of them are searching for their own identities, seeking acceptance, and trying to feel normal. Imagine my horror once the videos began to spread. People started writing us about them, at times out of concern for our well-being, but others wrote to condemn me for the video. The worst part was that we could not tell them anything because it was an open police investigation. We had to stay silent for another 2 years.

That is a long time to not be able to speak up for yourself.

After finding out about the videos and enduring the subsequent backlash, I fell into a deep depression.

In the weeks after, we started scrambling to find anyone who would help. Bria spent day after day, week after week on the phone with lawyers, telling them our situation.  At the time, I couldn’t talk about our situation without breaking down. I’m eternally grateful to have had Bria’s unfaltering support throughout all of this.

Talking to the lawyers yielded little. Some were sympathetic, a few were dismissive, but almost all of them were perplexed. They explained that there were not laws criminalizing revenge porn in Georgia, federally in the US, nor were there any in the UK, so sadly, there wasn’t anything they could do.

I started suffering constantly from nightmares and night terrors. Most of the dreams involved my ex trying to kill or rape me. Bria had to wake me up five to 10 times per week because my sleep paralysis became our new normal. She would have to vigorously shake me to get me out of my nightmare. I was depressed, anxious, and consumed with fear. I became an alcoholic by age 22, trying desperately to numb the pain but it only made the suffering worse.

After waking up in the ER in December of 2013,  I gave up drinking entirely. It wasn’t hard in that moment. Lying in my own urine, hearing my girlfriend crying, learning that I was going to be okay, I finally realized that drinking was going to kill, not fix me. I have been sober since that day.

I finally sought the help of a trauma specific therapist. It took her no time at all to diagnose me with PTSD. She said I had been suffering from it for years. Her treatment changed my life and more accurately helped me to get my life back. I started healing and living again, and the nightmares eventually came less frequently.

Meanwhile, the videos by now had racked up tens of thousands of views and was been shared to more than 35 pornography sites. We were desperate yet completely helpless. Finally, we called McAllister Olivarius in the UK upon a recommendation from a US women’s rape help line.

Our lawyer, Ann Olivarius, warned that it would be an arduous and emotional battle, but that she really thought we could potentially help change the law with the case if we were willing. Right away, we knew we were in good hands.

Throughout this ordeal, we’ve fought on. It’s been a long process and all the while these criminal acts still live online, continuing to damage my reputation, hurt me, and serve as a constant reminder of why I must fight this. Victims don’t always survive to fight it. Some are so humiliated and shamed that they feel death would hurt less than the helplessness experienced in this situation. A few months after finding the videos, I understood that level of anguish and shame, and leaning on my support system of friends and family helped get me through it.

Unfortunately though, because my ex filmed the videos, he owns the legal copyright to them. Because he uploaded the videos from his home in the UK, The only legal option I have is to file a lawsuit there. The first law criminalizing revenge porn in the UK passed in 2015, but since it was after my videos were uploaded, it doesn’t apply to me (or anyone else who was a victim before its passage. My only route for reparations is to file a civil lawsuit to get copyright ownership of the videos.

My girlfriend, Bria, and I have been involved in our pursuit of justice for over two years now. We have faced mountains of red tape and numerous dead ends. The police have turned us away. The legal system does not do enough to protect its victims. This may be our last opportunity for justice.

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To file a case against my ex, we have to pay thousands of dollars up front. A law recently passed in the UK, requiring a fee for civil cases (five percent of the total sum claimed in damages) greater than it’s ever been and much greater than the cost of filing a case in the US. There are also court fees, travel expenses, and additional costs that need to be covered.

Without this campaign, we cannot afford to keep fighting.

We want to fight for those who have been hurt, whose voices are being systematically taken away.  These aren’t lawyer’s fees, which we’ll only have to pay if we succeed in our case. They are fees that the UK government requires the victim to pay, in order to get the power of the law on their side.  Victims deserve justice. We deserve to be safe, protected from – and justly compensated by – the aggressor.

This experience nearly ruined me. It has cost me my mental and physical well-being and years of my life. I want to use my experience to help people who may be suffering the way I did. That is the only thing that will make this trauma worthwhile.

I won’t give up. I can’t sit by and watch other victims go through the same suffering as me and not fight this with every ounce of my being.  I am committed to advocating for change and demanding answers until policies are changed, laws are passed and justice finally accessible for victims. I hope you will join me in this fight.

Anything will help us in our ongoing quest for justice. Whether it’s $5, $5000, or a post on your Facebook wall, you are helping.

Thank you for reading, thank you for supporting, and thank you for sharing.

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