Speaking of Women's Rights: Leaving Didn't End His AbuseOne Woman's Battle Against Revenge Porn

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Leaving Didn't End His Abuse
One Woman's Battle Against Revenge Porn

She left him one afternoon, taking only her children and a basket of clothes.

But leaving didn’t end his abuse.

The threats began swiftly. He sent her an intimate video of them that she didn’t know existed—a video taken without her consent—and threatened to post it online, starting with the Facebook page of her employer. He also threatened to post explicit photos of her. Though some of the photos were taken consensually, they were never intended to be viewed by others.

“When a person takes photos in the privacy of her own home, with her husband, the father of her children, [she] is not being dumb or making bad choices,” says Karen.

He was arrested—not for threatening her, but for violating the protection order she had obtained against him. But she knew the video and photos would haunt her as long as they were in his possession. While he was incarcerated, Karen was granted an order from the court requiring his family to give her the computer with the photos, but she never received the device. As a single, working mother, she didn’t have the time or resources to fight him and his family in a civil suit.

By the following year, her life seemed to be turning around. She had moved her family to safety, was engaged to a caring, supportive man, and was on the job hunt. She had a job interview that went really well, and was all but guaranteed a follow-up meeting. She left full of promise, but the next day she received a suspiciously curt email declining her as a candidate for the position. Her heart sunk; she knew something was wrong.

It only took one Google search for her life to fall to pieces. The pages were full of intimate images of her, posted for the world to see.

“If anyone were to Google my name at that time, there is no way they would miss my naked body plastered all over the Internet,” Karen told Seattle Met earlier this year. “By a man I had trusted, that I had called my husband.”

Some of the images were taken with her consent, some were taken without, and some images featured her face on other women’s bodies. Her abuser had created a blog to share the photos, tagging her by name—including her maiden name, married name, and her fiancĂ©’s last name that she would eventually take as her own—and divulging personal details of her life. She knew why she didn’t get that job. And she immediately feared for her safety.

“I had to remind myself to breathe,” says Karen. “I was so scared, and so overwhelmed. I had to remind myself to take breaths, and to be there for my children.”

She sought help, but instead found a cold truth: no one treated his actions as a crime. But we were working to change that.

Karen was referred to Legal Voice in her search for a family law attorney who understood domestic violence and abusive litigation issues; we connected her with an attorney, but her story stuck with us. We later invited her to testify before the Washington Senate in support of the nonconsensual pornography bills for which we advocated in the 2015 session.

“Being a survivor is a very lonely place,” says Karen. “But I am fighting to help pave the way for those who don’t have the support and strength to use their voice.”

Thanks in part to her testimony—and to our donors whose support funded our strong advocacy efforts—the Washington State Legislature voted unanimously to create both civil and criminal penalties for disclosing sexually explicit images of someone without her consent. Washingtonians now have clear remedies for this devastatingly violating crime. And we couldn’t have done it without you.

So today, on Giving Tuesday, Karen is asking you to continue your support of Legal Voice: “Legal Voice made me feel like my voice and my experience mattered. I’ve never felt so much true support and warmth at any point in my journey,” says Karen. “They are working on the things that will really, truly make a difference. That alone makes me want to support Legal Voice as much as possible—and I hope you will join me.”

Please join the Giving Tuesday movement and help us reach our $5,000 goal by making a gift to Legal Voice today. Your support allows us to continue making real, lasting change for women like Karen, and all women in the Northwest.