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Trigger warning: This post discusses nonconsensual pornography.
International Women’s Day can be an opportunity to praise all the amazing things women are doing right now—and, obviously, have been doing since the dawn of time, but often without public acknowledgment. But it’s an equally ripe opportunity to address the many, many ways our culture disavows female voices, empowerment, or ability to make the choices women want to make, especially with our bodies and modes of sexual expression. This year, singer Madison Beer chose the latter route. On March 8th, Beer opened up on social media about the “fear and shame” she faced after a boy shared her private pictures when she was 14 years old. Seven years later, Beer said, she’s finally allowing herself to release that burden, which was never really hers to begin with.
“when i was 14 and exploring my body & sexuality, i sent very private Snapchats of my body to a boy a really liked at the time,” Beer wrote. “I sent these, at 14, thinking i could trust the boy as we had known each other for years & shared feelings for one another, but of course he shared it with all his friends.”
Beer wrote that the Snapchats continued to proliferate until it seemed that “everyone in the entire world” had seen them, including her family, friends, and artists and executives in the music business.
“I was told people were ashamed to be working, or even friends with me,” Beer wrote. She added that the trauma of this experience “instilled intense trust issues in me, that I’m still working on to this day.”
Beer added that, this week, she received calls “from a few people close to me saying that another video, from 2013, sent to the same boy 7 years ago, was being sent around once again,” which has “reopened” the pain and trauma she initially experienced.
Although Beer didn’t use the term explicitly in her post, she was the victim of revenge porn. Despite the name, “revenge porn” doesn’t require that the perpetrator is motivated by malicious intent. Rather, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative explains that “a more accurate term is nonconsensual pornography, defined as the distribution of sexually graphic images of individuals without their consent.” The organization adds that “nonconsensual pornography transforms unwilling individuals into sexual entertainment for strangers.” Currently, revenge porn is illegal in 46 states, and laws vary from state to state. In New York, the newest state to enact revenge porn laws, the nonconsensual dissemination of intimate images is punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Its criminality underscores the fact that revenge porn is a form of sexual violence.
As Beer touched on in her post, the trauma of this experience can severely affect a victim’s personal relationships, their professional opportunities, and their mental and emotional health. Often, the shame can be debilitating. But attorney Carrie Goldberg, who specializes in defending victims of sexual assault, urges people who’ve experienced sexual abuse (both online and off) to know that “this is not your fault.”
In her post, Beer acknowledges that the shame belongs to the perpetrator, not to her. And she encourages other people who have experienced similar trauma to understand this, too.
“so today, on IWD I am going to free myself of this weight i carry. I am going to tell my 14 year old self the following which i hope may help some of you to be kinder to yourselves as young women,” she wrote. “You should not feel shame. You were exploring your sexuality, you were learning. You should not feel like you did something wrong. Shame on those who betrayed your trust & SHAME ON THOSE WHO SHAMED YOU.”
Beer ended her post by encouraging other people to speak openly about their experiences with sexual abuse, if they feel safe doing so. Because, for her, this candor has allowed her to “free myself of the fear and shame that has followed me for the past 7 years. Now I can begin to move closer towards being the young woman i want to be.”
For more information about nonconsensual porn, visit Cyber Civil Rights Initiative at www.cybercivilrights.org. If you are in a crisis, you can call their helpline at 844-878-2274. Their counseling services are free of charge and available 24/7.