Names have been changed
Two years ago, when I was a junior in high school, a beautiful girl approached me on a messaging app. I texted her back, and we talked for hours. We figured out that we lived near each other. I was 17 and she was 20. She told me that her name was Sarah, and I told her my real name.
Our online chats became a daily routine. She pushed me for details about myself. If I was upset about something, she made it better by joking around. I felt like the app was the key and she was my home.
I was isolated when we started talking. I had recently been disowned by my grandma, my only relative with a roof over her head. I’d started living with my best friend and her siblings: My best friend’s big sister took foster parent classes so she could eventually take me in, which I was grateful for. But I still felt abandoned, and Sarah made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
I had known since I was 8 or 9 that I was more attracted to girls, but I dated boys because of my family’s and society’s disapproval of gay people.
So when I met Sarah, I had barely brought my sexuality into the real world. I thought that dating her would give me a chance to explore my actual self. But then we got so comfortable talking online that I didn’t want to meet up in person.
She pushed me to meet, however, and finally I agreed. It was a hot day and we decided to meet at the library, where the A/C blasts. I waited and waited, checking my phone. She didn’t text me until that night, and said she’d gotten caught up with something. She didn’t push to meet after that, and that was OK with me.
We talked online through the end of my junior year and into summer. After months of us creating this bond, she sent me a picture of herself in a bra and panties. She didn’t have a perfect body, but I loved how comfortable she was in her own skin.
Then she sent naked pictures and then very explicit videos. I asked myself why she was so comfortable with me, especially since her face was in some of the videos.
The app we used automatically deleted conversation after 24 hours. Pictures and videos are also deleted unless you save them as soon as you receive them. It never occurred to me to save any of her pics and videos, though when she said something cute I would screenshot the conversation, to remind me of what I liked.
She asked me to send her pictures. I was mighty uncomfortable with that. She pressured me, saying, “You’re beautiful; your body must be as beautiful as your face.” I started feeding on her praise like a dog wanting a treat. So I went for it.
I put on a blue lace thong and a bra. I turned the camera to every angle to make sure it was flattering. I sucked in my stomach blubber.
I told myself, This is no big deal, right? I mean it’s just a bra and underwear.
Days went by, and then she asked me for a video. I was wearing somewhat large underpants on that day and I tried to twerk for the video camera. Yes, I’m Black, but apparently the twerking gene decided to skip me. I decided to make my video a comedy and filmed my bad dancing in granny panties.
Deciding to Trust
I trust people until they give me a reason not to. I told my best friend’s family about Sarah, and they warned me, “This is dangerous. On the internet, people can just decide to be someone else.”
But I decided to trust her because she was a girl. She was so comfortable in her skin, and that gave me confidence about my body. I sent the video.
Then, a week later, I was off my phone for a while, then saw 15 texts from her. The last one said, “Since you’re taking forever to respond to my text, I’m going to expose you.”
My body felt like it wasn’t connected to me anymore, and my heart sounded different. With panic rising, I thought, “She wouldn’t do that,” and “The app deletes everything after a day.”
But she had saved everything I’d sent her. That same day, I found my pictures on the Facebook page of “Katerina Vex,” who looked like a Barbie doll in her profile pic. “Katerina” had added all my friends and family members, then uploaded everything I’d given Sarah on her own page. She tagged me in some of them.
My Facebook inbox was soon loaded with messages. I felt blindsided. My close friends reported the videos and the pictures to Facebook, and many of them inboxed “Katerina” how cruel it was to post my pictures and asked why she would do that.
“Katerina” answered that I deserved it, and I wondered if I did for giving someone my full trust.
The Things I Tried
I reported the pics and videos to Facebook, and they did take them down. But then, 30 minutes later, they’d be back up.
Together with my guardian, my friend’s sister, I filed a report at the police precinct. It was so embarrassing to explain and show the pictures and videos—and one of the policemen who came to my house made it even worse.
“I thought there was a crisis,” he said. “There are people out there actually dying.”
After that I called 311, the city’s general number for complaints, and they kept sending me to different people. Each time I got transferred, my faith that anyone could stop this faded more. Finally, I was sent to a support group with other people going through the same thing.
But I didn’t need support; I needed my pictures to disappear from the internet! I searched online for help and called number after number, becoming more and more desperate. I threw my phone, then myself, onto the floor and started pouring tears.
About a week after my pictures got posted, I used a bobby pin to carve “Y” (short for Why me?) into my skin, creating a scar. I did it to see if I was still alive. I was so unsure of everything because I’d believed certain things about how humans should treat one another. That expectation crumbled when Sarah did this cruel and strange thing to me.
The Torment Continues
I went back on the app and begged Sarah to stop posting my pictures. She told me to meet up with her at a park. I brought my best friend and her two sisters in case anything happened. We waited at the park for three hours, then left.
When I got home, I got a message from Sarah calling me “p-ssy.” She also sent photos of the sisters and me at the park—she’d been there watching us! That creeped me out.
Senior year started, and I forced myself to ignore Sarah’s insanity. Then, one fall day after class, I got a message from her—she had sent a picture of a gun with a message saying she knows where my school is. I broke down in tears, and rushed home.
I still have no idea why she’s doing this to me, but it seems like she won’t stop on her own. I don’t even know if there is a “Sarah,” since I’ve never seen her. The videos have shown up on YouTube pages with lots of views, so someone may be making money off my image. This has been going on for a year now, and I’m really drained.
While working on this story, I decided to try a couple more places for help. I contacted the office of the public advocate of New York City, but someone there said they didn’t handle online conflicts. I contacted the New York State office of the attorney general, but they told me they couldn’t help either.
I sent a message to Carrie Goldberg, a lawyer who’s made a career out of helping victims of revenge porn. Her office told me a consultation would cost $350, and only then would they tell me how much more it would cost if I used them. I don’t have that kind of money.
More Cautious Going Forward
This nightmare has affected me in different ways. I’ve become more negative about my body, my facial features, the color of my skin. I ask myself, Did this person pick on me because I’m Black? Or was I just too stupid to notice that she was playing me like a grand piano? She built up my ego, then messed it up.
It’s so frustrating not to know why she would do this. Was this “Sarah’s” plan before she hit me up online? Who is she and who is Katerina Vex? Why is this happening? That’s why my scar stays as “Y.”
This experience has shaken my confidence about relationships. Starting now, I will be really picky about who I date (and I’m not sure I’ll ever try to meet anyone on the internet again). I will pay attention to the way she answers questions and asks me questions, and if she pushes me to do anything that makes me uncomfortable.
It’s shocking to me that a female could do something as cruel as revenge porn to another female. Though I have no way of knowing if “Sarah” really was a girl.
I worry that a future partner might come across my video. Imagining this scenario, I decided that at a certain point in the relationship, I’ll tell anyone I get serious with. Writing this story and making all the calls has made me more comfortable with this topic, so it might not be so bad to have that conversation.
Obviously, I made bad decisions, so I don’t know what right I have to give advice. BUT if you find yourself in a situation like this and you hesitate, listen to your hesitation. Don’t send pictures of yourself to anyone unless you’re comfortable with the whole world seeing them.