“I always tell women- be very careful. Be very careful you know, with the naked selfies and sending them…
“Be very careful about sending the naked selfies. Even a bikini is sexy too, and in some cases, sexier!! It’s not your fault, but just a word to the wise: be smart and don’t do it”.
Those quotes are how Megyn Kelly opened and ended her interview with me regarding the entire movement started by BADASS to eradicate revenge porn. Sure, in between those quotes, we were able to get the word out about our mission and letting victims know there is a resource available for this, but it was sandwiched between two very questionable statements that go against what we stand for as an organization.
Please don’t get me wrong- I was incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to speak on such a large platform at all, and I’m thankful that Megyn Kelly was willing to bring me on air to share my story- but between the victim blaming and the focus on my personal victimization, I was barely able to talk about how I, and so many others, rose above our experiences to start a movement that has the potential to change the world (or at least, the internet). Megyn’s comments weren’t meant to be victim blaming, and I’m sure she didn’t intend them to be, and we hear problematic statements like that frequently in our work- but once someone learns more about image abuse and how it works, they usually feel very differently. Megyn’s statements were made out of innocence- she is a very educated and smart woman, however, she just hasn’t learned much about the topic of Revenge Porn, which is something we hope to change by speaking out.
When I heard I would be appearing on Megyn Kelly, I started planning how to make the best use of my short time on a nationwide platform. I wanted to talk about how awful the term “Revenge Porn” is- it implies that the victim did something to deserve revenge, and “porn” describes it as purposely sexual and implying consent. I wanted to start changing the conversation towards using “Image Abuse”, because it covers the variety of crimes we see with our victims- hidden cameras, upskirt images, photoshopped pictures, deepfakes, and, yes, photos posted by a jilted ex. I wanted to start changing the way people view “Revenge Porn” and see it for the violation that it is.
I wanted to urge people to write to their lawmakers in every state, to ask them to introduce a bill banning Image Abuse, or amend the ones they currently have to make them more enforceable. I thought with Megyn Kelly’s legal background, she would love the chance to talk about how an “intent to harm” clause is problematic, and get her input on how bills should be worded to avoid violating the first amendment. I know that Mary Anne Franks would be the BEST choice to help explain how that works, but perhaps Megyn Kelly could bring that argument to national attention.
I wanted to tell her about the other amazing activists working to end revenge porn on a global scale- about Leah Juliett, who not only has raised awareness with their March Against Revenge Porn organization, but also works as an ambassador and advocate for GLAAD, educating people on the rising trend of using the internet to shame marginalized populations, while also fighting for trans rights and for trans voices to be heard. Or about Catherine Bosley, a news anchor who experienced image abuse before the term Revenge Porn was even a thing, and who successfully sued hustler for printing her image without permission. She had been fired from her position in Youngstown Ohio due to the leak, only to rise above and get a job on camera in a bigger, better market. Now, she is working to share her story, and inspire so many others to rise above the victimization of image abuse.
I didn’t really want to talk about my own personal victimization in any sort of detail- that’s not as important to me as telling the other stories that need heard. The 15 year old who was blackmailed with photoshopped pictures, until she finally gave into her blackmailers demands and stripped on camera, while crying, for the purpose of him uploading the video to every chan site that would let him. The woman who took pictures at 19 for a college boyfriend, only to have them sent to everyone she knew while she was married and pregnant ten years later. The woman in Iowa whose husband had put multiple hidden cameras in her home, who didn’t realize she had even been being filmed until she filed for divorce and found her pictures, hundreds of them, scattered across the internet. I wanted to tell their stories, and talk about how they overcame their victimization and are fighting to ensure that no one experiences what they did. I never wanted a national platform so I could throw a pity party- I wanted to show the world how strong and powerful the human spirit is, and how those people refused to be reduced to a series of pictures online, and instead, used that pain productively. My story isn’t what’s important- what matters is what we’ve accomplished with that story.
Since starting BADASS less than a year ago, we’ve gotten thousands of images removed from websites that are dedicated to image abuse. We’ve assisted police and victims in cases that resulted in arrests, and we help LEOs and investigators learn how to navigate the websites, collect usable evidence, and we provide victim support in every step they must go through to get justice. We’ve talked to people who have gone through this and felt hopeless and suicidal, and made them feel empowered and gave them reasons to keep going. We’ve made over a thousand people know that they aren’t alone in their pain, and we’ve educated countless people on various aspects of image abuse. We are developing an educational program for teens that covers more than just sharing nudes- we want to teach them about how to set boundaries, about consent, and how to break up and respect your partner. We’ve connected to tech giants to help them keep non-consensual images off of their platforms, and work with developers to create programs to prevent images from being shared, as well as programs for victims and law enforcement to find and remove photos while collecting evidence.
Antigone Davis, the head of global safety for Facebook (and one of my personal heroes) said that we are “activists that speak engineer”, and i thought that was not only fitting, but one of the highest compliments I could hear. We aren’t just a “support group” or an organization dedicated to spreading awareness by exploiting their stories,-we are working together and creating so many changes to the evilness of online exploitation.
Basically, we do a lot. But you know what we don’t do? Slut shame. Victim blame. Tell victims that it’s their fault for taking the images in the first place. We don’t believe that there should be shame in sex, nor should we be ashamed of our bodies. To us, this is a consent issue- a human rights issue. We believe that the problem doesn’t lie in the pictures themselves, but in their use as a weapon to shame and harm us. We support the right of nude models and sex workers to not have their work pirated on sites they didn’t consent to host their work. We support teens who were coerced into sending a nude to someone who they thought really liked them.
And we do all of that at no cost to the victim- Our “staff”, consisting of me (Katelyn Bowden, CEO and HBIC), my cofounder and COO, Belinda Berry, our legal aid and Board President, Kate Venable, CSO and tech guru, Rachel Lamp- along with countless untitled volunteers- work tirelessly to juggle all the needs of our organization, as well as helping victims on a personal level, are all unpaid- we have no funding outside of donations, and we don’t feel it’s right to charge victims to help fix what someone else did to them**. I don’t know of any other organizations run purely by volunteers that are accomplishing nearly as much as BADASS is, and that’s something that deserves attention.
These are the things I wanted to talk to Megyn kelly about, and instead, I got a few words in about a cause I’m extremely passionate about, sandwiched between problematic statements.
If I’m ever given a national platform again (which, after publishing this blog post, is questionable, but i felt this was so necessary), I hope to cover these topics and more. I hope that someone out there wants to give us an opportunity to truly start a conversation about the work that needs to be done to end revenge porn/image abuse.
Because we know, no matter how careful you are- no matter how “smart” you are, this can happen to anyone. And we think people ought to know that.
Watch the full video here.
**At BADASS we believe in offering support at minimal or no cost to victims. Our goal is to teach victims how to empower and advocate for themselves so that they can take hold of their story. The nature of image abuse allows those who have been exposed to be revictimized. By providing the steps to remove content it aims to empower and remove that helpless feeling that often comes with this type of abuse. While we pride ourselves on offering services for free, we do respect and understand the need for services, especially legal services, to charge. By being a free resource, we can get people immediate help by eliminating that as a barrier.**