TW: Image-based sexual abuse/sextortion
I am LITERALLY SHAKING with emotion as I share my TEDxPerth talk about my experiences of image-based abuse.
It’s also bittersweet because to this very day I am still experiencing this horrific crime. Not that long ago an anonymous sexual predator doctored me onto the body of a woman wearing a semi-transparent, nipple-exposing t-shirt with the words ‘I AM A DUMB COW’ written on it, which was shared online. The same sexual predator also doctored another image of me on the cover of another adult movie next to the words ‘TREAT ME LIKE A WHORE’. These were the LEAST sexually explicit of the most recent wave of doctored images of me.
There was a time when I would see these doctored images of me on pornographic sites and uncontrollably cry myself to sleep. But now I am so determined to do what I can to combat image-based abuse so that no other person has to be the subject of this dehumanising and potentially life-ruining criminal behaviour, because this issue is SO much bigger than me or any one person.
It is a global issue. It can and does happen to anyone – particularly women, people with disabilities, the LGBTQI community and other vulnerable groups.
While Australia and many countries around the world have criminalised or are in the process of criminalising image-based abuse (revenge porn), there is only so much one country or state can do to combat an issue that transcends jurisdictions.
The international community (including social media and tech companies) MUST work together to help combat this issue because right now too many victims are left without justice. Technology is advancing faster than our laws, and predators are continuing to come up with new ways to abuse others. We need a global plan of action. And we need it now.
There is so much more I would’ve liked to say in this talk, especially to those who are experiencing image-based abuse. If that is you – I really want you to know that you are not alone. You are loved. You are supported. And the fight for justice is as strong as ever. Yes, things might get really tough. People might victim blame and slut shame you. There might not be any justice or recourse. People might invalidate your experiences because they don’t understand that what happens online has real world consequences.
But PLEASE don’t lose hope or give up. Please know you are not to blame –
It’s YOUR BODY, YOUR CHOICE – ALWAYS. Please stay strong. I know it is easier said than done, but take each day as it comes. Surround yourself with those who love and support you, because things CAN get better. I know it. (Below I have included the details of the world-first image-based abuse portal created by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner under the amazing leadership of Julie Inman Grant – from personal experience I can tell you that this service is so incredible for those who are looking for support if you are dealing with this, the staff are professional, kind and so caring.)
I also want to take the time to reiterate something I said in the talk – I do NOT in any way want to take credit for ‘changing the law’ AT ALL – In this journey I have had the privilege of meeting fellow survivors and activists who have fought with all their hearts and might for change – this is on their backs. It’s on the backs of ALL the victims and survivors who have dared to speak out.
One warrior in particular is Brieanna Rose who inspires me to my very core. She has been instrumental in this change and she deserves to be recognised. She is an incredible warrior. And it is an honour to know her. I love you Brieanna. I am so grateful for all the work you have done and continue to do for justice.
I have also met some of the incredible academics who have been pivotal in enacting change – Dr. Nicola Henry, Dr. Anastasia Powell and Dr Asher Flynn who have contributed so much in this area – their work and passion is invaluable, and we owe them a great deal of thanks. This is on their backs. They are incredible.
This is also on the backs of women’s rights advocates, tech safety experts, policy advisers, lawyers, politicians and especially the amazing people who helped create such a life changing piece of legislation at the NSW Attorney General’s Department including the NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman who actually included me in this process. Thank you for giving me a voice, thank you for giving me a chance to reclaim my name. I can’t tell how much it has meant to me.
This is also on the backs of so many other stakeholders in Australia and around the world who have worked for years fighting for change and justice in this area. The process of changing the law is not easy, it is a long and convoluted process and I am so grateful to every single person who has played a part in fighting against image-based abuse in Australia and beyond. I am so proud of all your work.
I also want to make it clear, that I could not have gone through this journey without the support of my immediate family (Dad, mum and my 4 sisters – I love you and thank you for putting up with my non-stop crying during the worst of times), my best friends, Liam Downey, Mads Duffield and Tanaya Kar who have supported me from day 1 – I love you and I am forever indebted to you, you were there for me at my worst and I can never repay you. Thank you to ALL my other close friends who have lifted my spirits and given me strength in my darkest days – you know who you are, I love you dearly!
To everyone who has followed this journey and taken the time to reach out – I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – it does not go unnoticed and I appreciate it more than you know. I want to thank two particular law professors at my uni – Zara J Bending and Shireen Daft who have listened, encouraged, empowered and shown so much love, care and support to me – you have been such pillars of strength for me. Karin Bentley who not only has done so much work fighting for tech safety for women, but has supported and gone out of her way to allow me to share my experiences, bring me to the table, and give me a voice, something that people don’t do often, I am so incredibly grateful to you.
I also want to give A HUGE THANKS to TEDxPerth for allowing me to share my experiences in the first place. Thank you for seeing value in what I had to say and having faith in me. Thank you to all the organisers and curators for VOLUNTARILY doing SO MUCH work putting the event together. TEDxPerth 2017 was a success and it’s thanks to you. To Andrea Gibbs and Emma who were nothing short of phenomenal. They helped me so much with this speech. And were brutally honest with me when it sucked BAD. I am so grateful for your help and support – I really can’t express in words how much your help and support meant to me.
If you are currently experiencing a form of image-based abuse, please contact police or there is support available through the WORLD-FIRST image-based abuse portal here: https://www.esafety.gov.au/image-based-abuse/