But my father — a selfless, peaceful, and decent man who is nonetheless prone to a fiery temper when a situation is deserving of it — was much more worried about me than about punishing Rob. He focused on assuring me that he wasn't disappointed in me.

Because I have parents who are deeply understanding and could (just barely) afford the cost of a lawyer, they set out to find one who practiced this new, strange sect of internet privacy law. We hired Erica Johnstone, who specializes in online reputational harm and is also the co-founder of WithoutMyConsent.org, a site dedicated to providing resources to people who have been defamed, harassed, or stalked online. Erica managed to get my photos taken down with one lawyerly email, even though my own six emails had previously been ignored.

The e-mail that removed the pictures cost my family thousands of dollars in legal fees, which most victims of revenge porn cannot possibly afford.

But I was luckier than most women (and, in some cases, men), because revenge-porn websites believe laws like Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protect them. The former, passed in 1996, essentially ensures that websites are immune from liability in almost all cases when content is being posted by a third party. This is less clear-cut when the content has been tampered with. Hunter Moore, the founder of IsAnyoneUp.com, would look up his victims' social media presences and take screenshots of their profiles to place alongside the anonymously submitted pornographic pictures.

The latter law says that websites are protected from third-party copyright violations — unless they ignore formal requests from the copyright owner to remove the material, which they often do. But these laws have yet to be tested in court, even though thousands of people have been violated in this way.

And so here we are. There is no privacy now. The e-mail that removed the pictures cost my family thousands of dollars in legal fees, which most victims of revenge porn cannot possibly afford.

 

I had Rob sign a $50K settlement stating that, while he did not admit that he'd posted the pictures, he would delete any explicit images or videos he still had of me. It also stated that he would never contact me or post any information about me again.

But a few months later, Rob began texting me. He told me he wanted to see me, "one last time." I said no, and told him not to contact me again, or I'd take legal action. He was not daunted. He doesn't have anywhere near $50,000. He continued texting me, telling me he still loved me, begging me to see him. I ignored him.

A short time later, someone I didn't know tweeted this to me: "I found naked pictures of you and another guy online. Is that you?" I direct-messaged him, and he told me that he'd contacted me only because he felt bad and figured I wasn't aware that the pictures were posted in a certain high-traffic, low-accountability crevice of the internet: 4chan.

The stranger — who typed in broken English — emailed me the file. It was indeed the same collage of stills from the sex video, plus the old screen shot of my Facebook page. The image was surely long gone from 4chan by the time I saw it; because of the volume of posts the site receives, just ten minutes after something goes up, it's impossible to find it again. And yet, more people probably saw it than found my picture on the low-traffic revenge-porn site on which it had previously been featured, and it's impossible to say how many people who viewed it decided to right-click and save it on their computers. It's also impossible to say if this was the first time it'd been posted on 4chan, or if it was posted there with some regularity. And while it's certainly not implausible that it was Rob, it's virtually impossible to prove it.

 

Decades ago, you could cut people out of your life and never have to confront them again. Now, if they want to, they can link themselves to you forever. Mistakes I made as a young adult are not only for learning from — they're for running from. Running and running. Because even if my ex stops chasing me, that shitty JPEG won't. Like sand, it'll slip through my fingers, and there's no way I can ever pick it back up.

Names have been changed.

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