The following post is written by Chrissy Chambers. She became the first person to seek damages and the criminal prosecution in England of a former partner for posting revenge pornography on the internet. Chrissy continues to share her story, advocate for change and demand justice for victims of revenge pornography and sextortion.
Have you ever seen an embarrassing photo of yourself? You know the type. A notification pops up and you can’t un-tag yourself fast enough because that face you’re making is just the worst. Now, imagine that notification popping up, but this time when you open it you see something you can’t unsee. Something criminal, and sadly, something everyone else can see now too. I got one of those notifications once. I saw a girl who was naked and unconscious. She is a daughter, a girlfriend, an activist, and an adventurer. Her name is Chrissy Chambers. She is me. I am a victim of revenge pornography, and this is my story.
In 2009, my ex-boyfriend filmed himself sexually assaulting me while I was unconscious. I was young (18) and in love for the first time. He was six years older, jealous, controlling, and as it turns out, dangerously obsessed. It lasted a year before I suggested that we take a break. He didn’t take it well and was furious at me for “not loving him enough.” I was devastated; I loved him very much and I still cared about him but it was so hard now, his energy was toxic.
He decided to go back to England, but suggested we have a night of drinking before he left. I was underage and had never been drunk before, and he wanted to play a drinking game. I don’t remember much from the night once I started drinking, but I was blacked out and intoxicated by the time he pulled out his camera. I wouldn’t find out what happened to me that night for another 4 years.
During that time, I met Bria. She took my breath away, so full of life, amazingly talented, and fiercely loyal to her heart. We started a YouTube Channel, aptly named BriaandChrissy, where we post music, comedy sketches, advice videos, and personal stories. We use our platform to spread awareness about LGBTQ equality, women’s rights, anti-bullying, acceptance, and loving yourself.
As you can imagine, our audience consists of mostly young people. The majority of them are female, and many of them are searching for their own identities, seeking acceptance, and trying to feel normal.
Videos Surface And The Backlash Begins
I remember a friend alerting me that there were links with my full name posted all over the Internet, calling me a slut and a bad role model. Clicking on the link, it felt like I was being hit in the chest with a baseball bat. I couldn’t catch my breath. It didn’t seem real. I felt horrible for this girl, abused and laid bare, unknowing.
Denial raced through me as a defense mechanism but it quickly dawned on me that this wasn’t some other person I could feel sorry for — it was me.
Imagine my horror once the videos began to spread. People started writing us about them, at times out of concern for our well-being, but others wrote to condemn me for the video. The worst part was that we could not tell them anything because it was an open police investigation. We had to stay silent for another 2 years — that is a long time to not be able to speak up for yourself.
In the weeks after, we started scrambling to find anyone who would help. Bria spent day after day, week after week on the phone with lawyers, telling them our situation. At the time, I couldn’t talk about our situation without breaking down. I’m eternally grateful to have had Bria’s unfaltering support throughout all of this.
Talking to the lawyers yielded little. Some were sympathetic, a few were dismissive, but almost all of them were perplexed. They explained that there were no laws criminalizing revenge porn in Georgia, federally in the US, nor were there any in the UK. So sadly, there wasn’t anything they could do.
I started suffering constantly from nightmares and night terrors. Most of the dreams involved my ex trying to kill or rape me. I was depressed, anxious, and consumed with fear. I became an alcoholic by age 22, trying desperately to numb the pain but it only made the suffering worse.
After waking up in the ER in December of 2013, I gave up drinking entirely. I finally sought the help of a trauma specific therapist. It took her no time at all to diagnose me with PTSD. She said I had been suffering from it for years. Her treatment changed my life and more accurately helped me to get my life back.
It took a long time for me to feel happy again but eventually, with the help of a lot of therapy and a lot of love, I found my strength.
Meanwhile, the videos by now had racked up tens of thousands of views and had been shared to more than 35 pornography sites. We were desperate, yet completely helpless. Finally, we called McAllister Olivarius in the UK upon a recommendation from a US women’s rape help line.
Our lawyer, Ann Olivarius, a champion of women’s rights and the person who coined the word date rape, warned that it would be an arduous and emotional battle, but that she really thought we could potentially help change the law with the case if we were willing. Right away, we knew we were in good hands.
Unfortunately, because my ex filmed the videos, he owns the legal copyright to them. Because he uploaded the videos from his home in the UK, The only legal option I have is to file a lawsuit there. The first law criminalizing revenge porn in the UK passed in 2015, but since it was after my videos were uploaded, it doesn’t apply to me (or anyone else who was a victim before its passage. My only route for reparations is to file a civil lawsuit to get copyright ownership of the videos.
The legal system does not do enough to protect its victims. This may be our last opportunity for justice.
I Won’t Give Up
The week I found out about the videos was a blur for me, yet when I stop and think about it, it feels like every thought, emotion, and detail is permanently sealed in my memory, paying visits during nightmares or when I am having to retell the story to law enforcement, to legal advisors, to other survivors and now, to you. Revisiting that moment is painful, but I know staying silent hurts much worse.
Throughout this ordeal, we’ve fought on. It’s been a long process and all the while these criminal acts still live online, continuing to damage my reputation, hurt me, and serve as a constant reminder of why I must fight this. Victims don’t always survive to fight it. Some are so humiliated and shamed that they feel death would hurt less than the helplessness experienced in this situation. A few months after finding the videos, I understood that level of anguish and shame, and leaning on my support system of friends and family helped get me through it.
I want to use my experience to help people who may be suffering the way I did. That is the only thing that will make this trauma worthwhile.
I can’t sit by and watch other victims go through the same suffering as me and not fight this with every ounce of my being. I am committed to advocating for change and demanding answers until policies are changed, laws are passed and justice finally accessible for victims.
Thank you for reading, thank you for supporting, and thank you for sharing.
On January 17, 2018, it was announced that Chrissy Chambers won the landmark civil case against her ex, an important victory for those who have experienced and are fighting back against revenge porn.
“We have been able to set a legal precedent that should serve as a severe warning to those who seek to extort and harm with revenge porn: you cannot do this with impunity, and you will be held accountable for your actions. For anyone who has been living in fear of revenge porn used against you, there has never been a better time to come forward.”
– Chrissy Chambers’ statement following the case outcome
If you’re experiencing sextortion, remember: you’re not alone. The good news is that you can handle this, you’re going to be okay. So, take a few deep breaths and check out some resources here.
If you need help now, text “THORN” to 741741, and a trained Crisis Text Line counselor will be there to support you anonymously.