The pictures were graphic — four stills from the video filmed almost a year prior, with my face, among other things, in full view. Rob's face, of course, was cut off. Next to the stills was a screenshot of my Facebook page, with my name, location, and profile picture. Adam had found it simply by Googling my name; it was on the second page of search results, featured on a website that I would come to know as one of many "revenge porn" sites.

I was in my last year at NYU. I was considering graduate school, preparing to search for a serious job. Even the most well adjusted twenty-somethings I knew were overcome with existential trepidation. My response to discovering the pictures was self-loathing. I'd grown accustomed to feeling betrayed, as Rob had betrayed me in a number of ways already, but this was new. Being humiliated publicly, sexually, on the internet, I felt a deeper despair, both in my mind and my body. Looking in the mirror, walking outside, seeing my byline on blog posts became awkward. I felt as though everything I did was a statement, a defense. At first, I started dressing puritanically; my own body disgusted me. I couldn't get out of bed for days, except to shower, because I felt constantly unclean, covered in grime. Then, just as quickly, I grew obsessed with sex. I wanted to prove that Rob hadn't broken me down, that I still owned my body and I could do what I wanted with it.

I had too many drinks one night and slept with a close friend, an act I'd end up seriously regretting.

I had too many drinks one night and slept with a close friend, an act I'd end up seriously regretting. I started sexting — a thing I once made fun of — and I sexted Adam, whom I hardly knew at that point, morning, noon, and night. I surprised myself with the colorful sexual vocabulary I didn't know I had. Then, finding that thoughts about sex had become a dull light bulb in my brain — dim but always humming — I realized how much I was overcompensating. I felt like the slut Rob tried to convince me I was. I'd look up the pictures again and stare at that drunk slut giving a blowjob, getting fucked from behind, gape-mouthed, eyes open. She stared back at me, taunting me.

I thought about telling my parents, my friends. I thought about not being able to get a job after all the hard work I'd done and the money my parents spent on college. I thought about the future relationships that this could prevent or ruin. I'd never felt so unworthy of my life.

 

The pictures were all I could think about — even when I wasn't thinking about them, I was thinking about not thinking about them. It was imperative that I get them down. For two months, I emailed the site, I contacted Google, I filled out forms, and I looked for computer programmers who would know how to hack into the site — all to no avail. I researched the companies that politicians and celebrities and CEOs use to get defamatory information off the internet, and found that that it would cost me no less than $10,000 just to have the search result moved to page three of Google.

When I confronted Rob, he denied any responsibility. But he admitted that he had not deleted the video until a few weeks prior. I asked him who else could have done it besides him. "I don't know," Rob answered, pathetically. "They were on my laptop. People have used my laptop." He feigned sympathy for me. He had the nerve to say, "I'm in those pictures too. We're in this together."

I finally told my mom around Christmas. I invited her out to dinner and we were driving through Manhattan, picking out a place, when she raised the subject of my love life.

"How's Adam doing?"

"He's great," I told her. "He's really good to me."

"I hope so," she sighed. Then she asked, with a mock-stern face, "You don't ever let him take any pictures of you, do you? You know, nude pictures."

She was clearly joking, but my entire body went warm. My mom is a compulsive Googler: she constantly searches my name, my friends' names, family members' names, her name, and will call me every time she finds something that worries her. ("There's a porn star who has the same name as me! I hope my clients don't think I'm a porn star in my free time!") I was amazed she hadn't already found the pictures. "No," I managed. "Of course not." I studied her expression: relaxed. She didn't know. It was just a painful coincidence that she'd asked.

I considered telling her right then and there, but I wanted to wait until we were sitting down because it was the worst news I'd ever had to deliver to her, and for the first time, I had no idea how she would respond. My mother and I are close, and I know her well — she would rather have heard I was pregnant, or failing all of my classes, or both. Those problems had tangible solutions. The internet was an invisible villain she didn't understand and wouldn't be able to protect me from. I considered not telling her at all.

We went to a restaurant in Little Italy with a far-too-chipper waitress who interrupted our conversation at each worst possible moment. When I finally broached the subject, I watched my mother's face fall; I waited while she went to the bathroom for fifteen minutes to collect herself, staring into the food she wouldn't eat when she got back. After she sat back down, I tried my best to explain the situation calmly. She shook her head, repeating, "Oh, Rhoda." For two hours, I recounted the lengths I'd gone to try to get the pictures removed, while she speculated how my father would react: "He's going to kill Rob. I don't know if we should tell him."

NEXT: "There is no privacy now..."

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