Takqia Staggers was a sophomore at Hill Regional Career High School in New Haven, Connecticut when her life changed. Staggers is one of many girls whose intimate pictures, sent to a boyfriend, ended up on Twitter with a user base in the billions. A deed better known as revenge porn.
“I started seeing this Twitter Career exposed page surfacing on my timeline,” said Staggers. Her first reaction was to ignore the surfacing tweets. “The page wasn’t saying who they were going to expose at the time but thirty minutes later my pictures are up with my full name, age, and year of high school.”
“I went viral, those pictures made it all the way to people in jail.”
On that night six years ago, away in her room in the back of the three-bedroom house, Staggers sat perched on her pink comforter watching her iPhone zing with notifications. As the hours flew by she saw more and more mentions, retweets, comments, and favorites. As it grew later in the night, the pictures had gained so much attention, even from users outside of the country. Takqia sat in shock. She clicked the home button on her phone closing out the Twitter app; she opened it back up only to see her pictures at the top of her timeline.
“I felt disbelief, anger, and hurt all in that order because I knew who I sent those pictures to. I went viral, those pictures made it all the way to people in jail.” she says.
Imagine sharing an explicit part of your body with a partner only to find that partner had plastered it over various social media platforms after a bad breakup. Now, thousands of anonymous peeping Toms are viewing what was supposed to be a private photo for one person.
Revenge Porn is the sharing of explicit images or films on the internet without the consent of one or more of the participants, usually with malicious and vindictive intent. Revenge porn was not a widely known phenomena until 2015 when It was officially made a crime in forty of the fifty states and the United Kingdom. As a fairly new crime each state has its own definition of what constitutes revenge porn. Connecticut classifies revenge porn as a class A misdemeanor under section 53-189c: “The unlawful dissemination of an intimate image.” According to the Data & Research Institute, one in twenty-five Americans are threatened with, or are victims of, non consensual images sharing, or “revenge porn.” That equates to roughly ten million Americans. The Center for Innovative Public Health Research found that minority women under the age of thirty, and members of the LGBTQ community are much more likely to be threatened with revenge porn than a male.
Samantha Bates, author of Revenge Porn and Mental Health, found revenge porn survivors experience trust issues, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and several other mental health effects. Bates shines light on how serious revenge porn is as a crime. The lasting effects are similar to those found in survivors of a sexual assault.
The first recorded case of revenge porn was in 2007. Lena Chen’s life was turned upside down. While home for Christmas break from Harvard University, Chen realized that her ex-boyfriend had posted explicit photos of her.
“I felt very numb but I had to function. I was at home for the Christmas holidays, so I had to act normal because I did not want anyone to find out anything was wrong,” Chen told The Independent in a June 2018 interview.
Chen was a considered a social person, she had her own online advice blog “Sex and the Ivy” where she used her real-life experience. Chen suffered constant harassment from students at her school, and strangers that just caught a glimpse of her through a computer screen.
Researchers from the Crimes Against Children Research Center and the University of New Hampshire in partnership with the anti-human trafficking organization Thorn, conducted a random sample of 1,631 social media users who suffered from revenge porn aged eighteen to twenty-five. The survey found that three out of five or 60 percent of people knew the perpetrator in real life prior to the victimization, 40 percent met them online. However, in less recorded cases, a victim can be unaware of the perpetrator who shares their pictures or video. What would you do if you had no idea who posted your images online? How could you pursue justice?
Malique Cue fell within the very narrow spectrum of male victims and victims who did not know their perpetrator.
It was winter break of 2016. A flyer for a hotel party was just posted and majority of the Facebook feed made plans to attend. Walking into the medium size room Cue found two queen beds, a TV, small passage leading to the bathroom, and the complimentary Bible resting on the night stand. An eerie silence occasionally filled the room. The party was stuck in a rut. Cue offered to be the DJ of a party. Taking his iPhone out of his jean pocket he paired it with the speaker.
“I want you to be mine again baby. I know this life style is driving you crazy.” Fetty Wap’s song, Again, vibrated off the walls. The party livened up and people relaxed. Cue not thinking anything left his phone playing music and stepped out of the room. He woke the next morning at his girlfriend’s house.
“I was just waking up when I found out that [the video] was leaked,” Cue’s says. His phone was constantly vibrating from the onslaught of Facebook notifications.
“It was a horrible feeling honestly, it was just like ‘wow I cannot believe it.’” Cue had always been told that if he was going to do something with his partner, then to do it in the privacy of your own home. “And that’s exactly what we did,” he said.
Ronald Huggins, the city of New Haven’s Youth Services Specialist and Youth Employment Supervisor, is a large man. He sits behind his desk at New Haven City Hall; leaning back in his chair Huggins brings his arms up and folds them over is chest looking down over his wire rimmed glasses. Working on a day to day basis with the youth of New Haven, he has witnessed first-hand cases of revenge porn. Incidents begin with students still in high school. Majority of high school students share intimate images over social media thinking it will disappear.
“We just had a story this week of a young girl who sent her picture to one boy on the football team at a school in New Haven and he sent the picture out. [Leading to] the mom [coming] into the school,” Huggins says.
The majority of people want to play the blame game.
“Last thing we want to do is put the blame game on a person. What we do is try to educate that person, here’s the laws behind it, here’s the schools standing, but at the same time you know . . .” he waves his hand in a circular motion and tilting his head to the side.
In Connecticut, revenge porn laws fall under the same classification as sexting laws. Sexting law 53-196h can result in a “conviction of a misdemeanor for both parties who participated in sexting under the ages of 13-17 years-old.” Since revenge porn was put on the books in 2015, victims have chosen to not seek charges in roughly 36 percent of reported cases.
After their entire ordeal, Takqia Staggers and Malique Cue both experienced different responses.
“I’m not going to lie I contemplated suicide as more and more people found out about the picture,” says Staggers. “I couldn’t think straight.” Being sixteen years-old at the time the image was considered child pornography. “If our parents knew more, and were more educated on this, I would have pressed charges.”
Malique Cue experienced a different reaction to his tragic ordeal that convinced him not to press charges. “The video was already out, and everybody had seen it so what am I really pressing charges for? I mean it won’t change anything,” says Cue.
Revenge porn is becoming more and more common due to the growing beast known as social media. According to the online statistic portal, Statista, the average person from 2012-2017 spends 126 minutes on social media daily. With the use of social media exploding among teens, revenge porn is not going away. Huggins wants to educate and give support to victims.
“We can’t change what has happened only thing we can do is fix what happens moving forward. I would really try to get the student some type of help or assistance to see if this was something they’re dealing with or going through,” says Huggins. “I would really have a talk to them. You can’t change what has happened. So now you fix it so that it never happens again.”
Cover Photo courtesy of Pixabay