*Trigger Warning: This post will discuss subject matters such as harassment of a sexual and non sexual nature, rape, suicide, and revenge porn.*
Revenge Porn is defined as a form of sexual abuse that involved the distribution of nude/sexually explicit photos and/or videos of an individual without their consent. Revenge porn, sometimes called cyber-rape or non consensual pornography, is usually posted by an ex-lover or friend, in order to seek revenge after a relationship has gone sour.*
Zoe Quinn is an indie game designer in a mostly male industry and, for the last month, has become the target of harassment after her ex-boyfriend wrote in her words “a several-act manifesto about [her] alleged sex life.”** He claimed that she had traded sexual favors for positive reviews in her videogame, Depression Quest, which is a choose your own adventure style game that explores the nature of depression. The game, by the way, is playable for free. This claim has since been quickly debunked, but she has had her personal information spread across the web, been harassed and threatened, had nude photos of herself sent to her colleagues, and had her family and friends also harassed just for associating with her. She’s had strangers on websites such as reddit and 4chan fantasize about raping her and driving her to suicide. (For those who follow the link, there is a major trigger warning, but it is definitely worth reading.) These people seem to think that this woman they have never met deserves her comeuppance for an act that never happened. The #GamerGate was a Twitter hashtag that started out as a personal attack against Ms. Quinn and her family, but now claims to be about journalistic ethics in the gaming industry.
Sadly, Zoe Quinn isn’t the only one to suffer personal attacks as a result of revenge porn. Many people, often women, have had their lives destroyed by the phenomenon. People have had to change their names, their job prospects have been ruined, have been stalked, and had friends and family harassed.
I could go on to talk about the lack of women in industries like gaming and comic books, and how, even though we have come so far, we still have the belief that video games and comics are mostly for straight white men. I could easily talk about the hostilities women still experience in these industries and how that has contributed to #GamerGate, but I’m not nearly smart enough. I could also rant and rave about the rampant slut shaming in our society and how people somehow think its okay to fantasize about committing horrific acts of violence against a woman they’d never met just because they read a blog entry by her ex-boyfriend. I could speculate as to why people would stalk and threaten said woman and the people she loves, and try to destroy her life. I mean, you’d think they’d have a life of their own, right? Why waste so much energy on a random woman discussed in a blog post? But I won’t, because I honestly don’t know why someone would go out of their way to threaten and wish suicide on a game designer or an eleven year old girl. (Warning to those who follow that link, I do not take any responsibility for anything damaged in a rage after reading it, or the subsequent heartbreak you feel.) I could also wonder why jilted ex-lovers would post something as life destroying as that in the first place and rant about how wrong it is, but I feel that would be stating the obvious. I could say all of this, but reading what these people went through just leaves a hole in my heart. I’m not angry, I just feel really tired and so very sad.
Instead, I have three messages. The first is for the people who consider posting revenge porn. For you, I say, stop. Take a deep breath. After a bad break up, you may want to make your ex hurt as much as you did, but that is no excuse. Stop and think. You did care about them once, so show them this basic human decency in the interest of the love you once shared. If you’re still angry, remember that posting nude pictures without their consent is illegal. I would hope that remembering basic human decency would be enough though.
To the people who harass those who don’t agree with you, who hack into their personal information, and threaten the lives of those you’ve met online: you are the reason I write under a pseudonym. At the risk of sounding cliche, cyberbullying people like this doesn’t make you seem stronger, it makes you seem weak. Strength comes from compassion and forgiveness, not bullying. When you’re behind a computer screen, it’s easy to forget that the person that you’re criticizing is still just that, a person, but that is no excuse to threaten, harass, or wish harm on another human being. When you come across something online that makes you angry, get off line, spend some time with you family and friends, or go for a walk. Don’t do anything rash, especially if it means ruining someone’s life. And never, ever wish suicide, rape, or murder on someone. It should go without saying, but there are people have taken their own lives because they were harassed so much online. The Internet and humanity at large is capable of tremendous good and of tremendous evil, and, God help me, I still believe in the inherent goodness of the world. I may be naive, but it’s true. I can’t make you be civil online, but I all I ask is whether you want to be the hero or the villain of your own story.
And finally, to the victims: I know I’m just some stranger on the Internet and I cannot begin to imagine what you are going through, because I’ve never gone through it myself. I can only sympathize and lend a nonjudgmental ear if you feel like telling me your story. I just want to say that no matter what others tell you, it’s not you fault. Stay strong because there is always hope for a better tomorrow and you will pull through this. Do not be afraid or ashamed to speak up and get help because there are others who have been where you are. You are not alone and you are not forgotten. No matter how hard it gets do not let the harassment get to you. You don’t know me, but I promise you this: life will get better. It may not seem true right now, but it always does.
*as defined by www.endrevengeporn.org.
**To hear Zoe’s story in her own words, click here.
If you or someone you know have become a victim of revenge porn, here is a website you can go to for help and information.