When “Paula” broke up with “Rob,” he vowed she’d regret ending their affair. She thought Rob meant she’d miss him. She didn’t realize he planned to destroy her reputation, nor that the drama would cost her a job and perhaps her career.

Three days later Paula sat in shocked silence looking at nude photos where she lay asleep half on, half off a blanket laid on the grass. Her employer’s operation’s manager told her, “I’m sorry. These have spread like wildfire through the plant. I don’t know that we can keep you. I can’t imagine you’ll want to stay.”

Two months earlier, Rob had talked her into making love in his backyard, pointing out the tall fence shielded them from his neighbor’s windows. She had been uneasy but had gone along with it because it had been so important to him, and she’d drunk too much to alcohol. She’d fallen asleep and hadn’t realized he’d taken photos on his cell phone.

Rob’s revenge included sending those photos to every member of her company’s management team, and everyone with an email listed on the company website.

When she called, I suggested she immediately contact an attorney and law enforcement to stop Rob before he did more damage.

The dynamics of revenge porn

Mobile phones with quality cameras have turned revenge porn or sexually explicit images made by a partner in an intimate relationship without the knowledge and consent of the subject into a reputation-trashing danger.

In Paula’s case, Rob took the photos when she was asleep, making her a victim of nonconsensual pornography.

Others self-initiate nude photos. According to the information security company McAfee, nearly fifty percent of women use their mobile phones to share sexual content with significant others on their mobile phone, with nearly one-third doing so on Valentine’s Day.1 An article published by the American Psychological Association in 2015 cited a study revealing 82% of those surveyed  had sexted in the past year.2 Nearly 75% said they sexted in the context of a committed relationship and 43% said they sexted as part of a casual relationship.

Attorney Michael Arnold reports, “96 percent of adults trust their significant other with intimate content, and only a third of them ask for this content to be deleted when the relationship ends.”3

This sharing leaves these individuals vulnerable to others uploading the photos when their relationships end.

Laws

In 2014, a court threw out New York’s first revenge porn case, People v. Barber. Much has changed. 48 states and the District of Columbia have laws outlawing the distribution of revenge porn, Victims can seek criminal and civil remedies, monetary damages for reputational and emotional harm, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees

Employer

Unlike Paula’s employer, many employers realize that revenge porn constitutes psychological and sexual abuse and provide victims with assistance. Wise employers realize that widely distributed images of an employee or manager could unleash behaviors and jokes that create a sexually hostile environment.

Employers can also let victims learn of helpful websites such as Without My Consent, Women against Revenge Porn, End Revenge Porn and the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative’s crisis hotline, 844-878-2274.

You

Like other victims of revenge porn, Paula felt humiliated and couldn’t bear to face managers and peers who’d seen her naked body.

I challenged her to not let Rob’s act of vengeance define her nor end her career.

She elected to move to a new state, but knowing that rumors could trail behind her, she armed herself with talking points to prepare herself for future employers’ reactions should they discover the photos or hear gossip.

Her own work, given the violation of trust she’d experienced, took longer. She succeeded when she realized she’d been the victim of a crime, had dodged a worse bullet by ending a short-lived affair with the wrong man, and had learned to trust her intuition when something didn’t feel safe or right.

1 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/sext-much-if-so-youre-not-alone/

2https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2015/08/common-sexting

3 Michael Arnold, “A Disturbing Picture,” HR Magazine, August, 2014, p. 56-57.

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