My Ex Posted "Revenge Porn" Photos Of Me

"Next to the stills was a screenshot of my Facebook page, with my name, location, and profile picture..."

By Rhoda Kelly

"Time heals." "Forgive and forget." "Move on." Those are the breakup rules, right? But it might be time to come up with some new advice — advice that addresses more permanent damage. I couldn't tell myself any of those things when I broke up with my ex-boyfriend, because I once made a mistake when I was drunk. And that mistake ended up on the internet.

This is how it happened: I started dating Rob toward the end of high school. He was five years my senior. He added me on Myspace, and we talked online occasionally. Then, after hanging out in real life only a handful of times, he insisted that we become a couple. To me, we barely knew each other, but his explanation was that he didn't want to be hooking up with me (that is, kissing — I was a virgin when we started dating) if I was going to be "slutting it up" with other guys. Rob liked to say things like that. Later, I would berate him for his language, and he would tell me he was kidding and to stop being such an "uptight feminist." But at seventeen, I didn't read into it — I liked him. He played guitar in a punk band and was a gifted graphic designer. He was quiet and cynical, but sweet to me.

I knew a thing or two about sadness and I took comfort in being able to comfort him.

Fast-forward three years, after the initial sweetness diluted considerably, and what was left was a controlling, territorial, sardonic, and deeply troubled man who I knew I had to leave, but who by then was like an extension of me. We both struggled with psychological disorders: I was diagnosed with major depression when I was nineteen, and he would have such severe depressive episodes that he couldn't get out of bed to go to work many days. Or he'd stay awake for two weeks straight because of his recurring nightmares about being abducted by aliens. Once, believing me to be an alien, he lay in my bed sobbing uncontrollably. Later, I looked up alien-abduction dreams and found that many studies pointed to childhood sexual abuse as a cause; after we broke up, he told me that he had in fact been molested as a child.

To the rest of the world, though, Rob's stoicism was his defining quality. He was born in Peru and moved to the States when he was nine, and his culture discouraged exposing one's feelings. He claimed to loathe melodrama, and his facial expressions were as varied as a turtle's. Rob almost never cried, but when he did, it was in front of me. His sobs disturbed me; they sounded as though he were being tortured. But I knew a thing or two about sadness and I took comfort in being able to comfort him.

By the time I was twenty, though, I'd grown tired of being his therapist, his mother, his résumé builder, his best friend, and his girlfriend. The day I broke up with him, he cut himself with a kitchen knife while on the phone with me. I hung up and called an ambulance, and he was admitted into the psych ward at the Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, New Jersey. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and I maintained my distance from him after that. My instinct was to tend to him, but my family, friends, and therapist advised me that doing so would only make things worse.

I found out later that he'd cheated on me — was in full-fledged relationships — with no fewer than four women while we were together. While it was upsetting, I wasn't entirely surprised, as Rob constantly accused me of cheating on him. If I went out with my friends, he would call me drunk in the middle of the night, demanding to know "who I was fucking." He always apologized the next day, but the expectation of those calls weighed on me. I'd opt to stay home on Friday nights if we hadn't made plans, because just the anticipation of the fight we'd have if I went out made me feel sick. But his paranoia was always hovering. He'd taken my virginity, and so he felt that he had some ownership over my body.

 

A few months before I ended our relationship, Rob filmed us having sex on his MacBook. I didn't want him to do this. He pleaded with me for months.

"What's the big deal? Don't you want to keep our sex life exciting?"

"We've been together so long. I don't want to get bored."

"Why not? You don't trust me?"

I tried to trust him, even though he never trusted me, because I thought that was how healthy relationships worked. This logic makes little sense to me now as I write this, but when you're committed to someone, you convince yourself. People have fantasies, and this wasn't a particularly weird one; I just didn't want to do it. I worried about how much time Rob spent on 4chan, the website where users can upload pictures anonymously, and where some of the most popular internet memes originated. The 4chan community is notorious for speaking in a language of inside jokes, and for their particular brand of schadenfreude. Many users post items for no other reason than to humiliate — in 4chan lingo, "for the lulz," a phrase Rob liked to use.

Plus, I could hear my mother's voice in my head: "Don't ever let anyone take dirty pictures of you! The internet is a scary place!" My mom obsessively recorded segments of the news that focused on teen sexting, child pornography, abduction after meeting people online, and stolen identities. Like many baby-boomer parents, she never trusted the internet; meanwhile, my generation often confided in it more than in our closest friends. We'd grown up with this confessional space where we could offer intimate parts of ourselves that would be too presumptuous or narcissistic or weird to share in real life. But if your pictures did end up on the internet, it wasn't for want of fair warnings.

Rob persisted, and I laughed him off, until one night, when we were back at his apartment after a party. I was drunk. The experience is hazy in my memory. We were having sex, and the next thing I knew, he was setting up his laptop on the bed. I slurred, "I told you I didn't want to make a video." He said, "Come on," and I was too drunk, too tired to argue.

Afterward, he promised me he'd deleted it, and I fell asleep. The next morning I searched his laptop for evidence of the video, just in case, and there was none.

We broke up six months later, and by the end of a hellish summer, I hoped that I could get back to a normal life. But that didn't happen. In October, I went on a date with Adam, whom I'd met on a dating site. Because it went so well, and because it seemed like I'd made a real connection with another man for the first time in almost four years, I felt okay bringing him back to my apartment that night.

In the morning, I left for work, and Adam stayed in bed. I was mortified when I got the text from him a few hours later: "Hey girl, did you know that there are pictures of you on the internet?"

NEXT: "Looking in the mirror, walking outside, seeing my byline on blog posts became awkward..."

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