X Close Search

Revenge Porn Almost Killed Me

Revenge porn almost drove Stephanie to suicide. If you need help for revenge porn or any other cyberbullying related issue, follow the links to our trained support services at the end of this article.

It wasn’t until I read my own suicide note to understand that I had no choice but to start speaking out about being a victim of revenge porn, cyber harassment, and emotional abuse.

My name is Stephanie Corrao, and I’m a 35-year-old single mother to an amazing 5-year-old son. Last year I escaped an extremely emotionally abusive relationship – but the abuse did not stop there. In fact, thanks to technology, it got even worse. For months I was harassed through text messages and emails, both of which escalated at a very alarming rate to the point that I received hundreds of threatening and verbally abuse texts and emails every single day. I finally succeeded in getting a restraining order to stop the overt harassment but as we all know, cyber technology allows harassment through many different outlets.

For the next 11 months, with 7 restraining orders and 6 domestic violence cases later, I was harassed and stalked. I received spoofed messages and texts from all different phone numbers that amounted to hundreds of numbers daily. I finally had to change my phone number just to stop the texts. I found out later that a text phone number generator app was being used to enable my abuser to send me texts from numerous numbers. I didn’t even know things like that existed.

Once I changed my number the texts stopped, but then he turned to using emails. Although I would block each one, I would then get another email with a different email address. He was setting up emails in all different names. Even with restraining orders in place the harassment didn’t stop. My abuser knew that as long as he didn’t use his own number he would not be in violation and at the time I had thought the same thing, but that was not the case at all.

I was being cyber and physically stalked, and my abuser knew every activity I was doing on social media – even with my accounts being private he somehow knew everything. I started getting emails to confirm my subscription to all sorts of porn mail and disgusting websites that I had never even visited, so I decided to google an old email address of mine that used my full name. The list that appeared in the google results sent me into a state of panic! There were numerous websites, with pictures of my vagina, my name, where I lived, false stories, and slanderous comments about me. Although I immediately spiralled into a state of shock, I called the police. I learned, unfortunately, that I couldn’t do anything because I couldn’t prove it was him.

Not aware of the legal rights the websites had, I started to do major damage control. I contacted all the websites that actually had a “contact us” section and asked to be removed, again unaware of their legal rights. The ones that did respond said that they didn’t remove posts just because I requested it and that I would need a court order to have them removed. Some of the sites were very big, well-known sites that had a full legal team including those sites that celebrities have been featured on. I knew then that it was going to take more than just an email from me to have those images removed (email help@cybersmile.org if you need help 24/7 wherever you are in the world).

I started looking up IP addresses to find the site owners, most of whom were hidden behind a proxy IP. This made it difficult or impossible to get any email addresses or useful contact info. I was at a complete standstill. I soon learned that the websites were protected and had no obligation to remove anything. I even went so far as to ask the criminal courts if I could get court orders from them but they couldn’t help. If I wanted to get a court order to remove the sites, I would have to file a civil suit and win, so I consulted my divorce attorney at the time. He explained that a civil suit could take years and thousands of dollars and I wasn’t financially capable to file a civil suit.

So here I was, at a complete loss, with no answers. I contacted an online reputation company that guaranteed removals but at $2000 cost per removal per site. They couldn’t even guarantee all the sites because some of the sites images of me were posted on were unfamiliar to them. Besides, I did not have that kind of money anyway. Days that felt like decades went by and all I could do was keep googling my name. Each time I did, I would find more sites, sites that would post an image not just once for one given day, but over a span of six months. Six months! I immediately started to think that if those images had been on there for so long who knows who could have seen them. That is when anxiety started to kick its way into my psyche.

One day at work I got an email response from one of the sites. It wasn’t an auto reply or an attorney, it was a young kid who apologized for the image that had been posted. It turned out that he had started that site years ago and didn’t even know it was still active. He immediately removed the post and even screenshotted its deletion to show me, and he also sent me the IP address of the original post as well as the comments that were posted there in case that would help me. He said that he didn’t want any legal problems, but he didn’t know how much he’d already helped me: The IP address of the post as well as its comments traced back to the location of my abuser’s home. So not only did he create the post but he even wrote his own comments. He did this maliciously to destroy my life, trying to make it look more believable by posting bogus comments.

I already had a domestic case open against my abuser so I would bring this to the district attorney’s attention. At my next court date, hysterically crying, I held out the printed images from several websites and said please help me. Unfortunately, in New York state, the current “revenge porn” legislation only covers images that were taken unlawfully, meaning that if I took the picture myself and sent it to him and he subsequently posted it without my permission it was still legal. It wasn’t just based on if I had consented to have the image posted or not, it was that if I had taken the picture myself then he could not be held responsible, and those websites without any images, just slanderous comments, could only be removed by a civil suit. I remember leaving the courthouse in a very bad mental state after I learned that, suicidal thoughts racing through my head. I didn’t know what to do. I felt helpless.

But I wasn’t.

I started reaching out to congressmen, the governor, and the mayor’s office. I needed someone to help me and fast. I was losing control and it seemed that more sites just kept appearing. I wrote to the media, basically anyone to hear me and help me. Finally the mayor’s office put me in touch with the executive director of the Domestic Violence Unit and they referred me to Carrie Goldberg at C.A. Goldberg, which is a firm that specializes in cybercrimes and revenge porn.

I immediately called her office and scheduled a consultation. The whole firm was so comforting and supportive and assured me they would do whatever they could to help me. They started doing DMCA takedown requests which did remove a lot of the images. The three big well-known websites were going to be hard to tackle and it took a few weeks, but my attorney finally succeeded in getting them removed, which was a huge relief. At that point I began to feel less frantic, more in control, and even hopeful that all of it would eventually be removed but it was going to take time.

From that moment on, as part of my everyday routine, I checked Google every morning to see if and what was deleted, searching my name with all sorts of distinguished words that had been plastered on previous sites, googling all my email addresses and social media user names. Just when I thought I’d already seen the worst, I found 18 photos of myself on official porn sites, again with my name and address included. One site had over 2000 views! I immediately called my attorney and they began working on the removals right away. I was shell-shocked. Of the 18 images that were on the sites, 10 I had taken myself for my ex; the remaining 8 were taken without my knowledge. My anxiety ramped up into a constant, so many photos and over 2000 people had viewed them.

At that point there were over 20 websites featuring images of me. I tried each and every day to stay positive and keep moving forward for the sake of my son. I am all he has – his dad walked away from him when he was 3. My son was my strength and I knew I was going to have to continue this battle every day.

I am a senior accounting manager, have been with my company for 10 years, and am very well respected. One day at work, I received a phone call from a customer who said he saw me on a porn site, and that there was a lot of trash about me online, and he just wanted to give me the heads up. My quick response was that I was fully aware and was handling it in court. He didn’t ask any questions, and I ended the call. I told a few friends that day and their immediate response was “why was he googling your name?” but my reaction to that was that it didn’t matter why, anyone should be able to google my name and not find me on porn sites.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. I knew then that I had to tell my employer what was going on because I didn’t want someone else to. Imagine telling your employer that there are naked pictures of you all over the Internet. I was mortified and felt completely humiliated. It was like the life I had and worked so hard to achieve was being completely destroyed. No one would ever look at me the same and having a customer tell me they saw it put me over the edge.

That night when I got home, I had a therapy appointment at 8pm. I immediately dropped my son off at the sitter’s and left an hour earlier than I would have to. My son would see me so sad and ask why I was sad. I was so beyond a level of broken that even he, my own son, couldn’t make the fact that I wanted to die go away. I would wish at night that I would wake up dead. What I felt at that moment was, my son is better off without me, I can’t be here for him in any way. I was crippled. I was so emotionally distraught that I believed my son was better off with me dead, because I felt I was dead anyway (contact your doctor or local Samaritans’ service if you feel like hurting yourself or anyone else).

I sat in my car, parked in a parking lot, and I called my attorney in an uncontrollable state. I don’t even remember the conversation I had with her, but when I got off the phone, I said to myself that I can’t live through this anymore. I felt that my life was never going to be the same again and my son would be embarrassed of me and get bullied in school if people ever saw those pictures. I felt that no matter what I wouldn’t be able to live a normal life. I was afraid to meet new people with the fear of someone googling my name. I was afraid to leave my house with the thought of someone recognizing me. I just couldn’t handle living in constant fear, so I took out a pen and a piece of paper that I had in my pocketbook and wrote my suicide note. My plan was to go to therapy, and when I got home after my son went to sleep to take my own life.

I did not mention anything to my therapist about my plan, but did tell her that I was very unstable emotionally. After the session I got into my car and saw the note that I had written and read it. It really hit me then, the reality of how bad I was. I immediately said to myself, no way. I am not going out like this. And that is when I realized I had to speak out about being a victim of revenge porn. I knew that I had to help others as well.

Every day after that night, I actively started speaking out more and more. I wanted others to know that it’s okay to feel scared and humiliated but don’t let that fear take away your voice. Your voice can help yourself and others. There are still images of me on those disgusting websites and my Google search results are nothing but trash, and it still humiliates me. But I have decided to not only speak out about it but to live my life not caring what anyone thinks of me. People that haven’t been through it do not and will never understand the tremendous effect it has on someone’s life, but I do and that is why I want you too, to speak out if you’ve been victimized.

There is nothing to be ashamed of, because by you speaking out you are not only standing up for yourself you are not allowing anyone to control you.

Since starting to speak out, I’ve connected with many victims of revenge porn and domestic abuse. I have become a support system to many, and I am currently in the process of setting up a non-profit organization to help with legal fees for victims. A victim is already stressed about what has happened, so I want to do what I can to help with the additional stress of the legal fees. I know what it feels like to not have the finances to save your sanity.

For the past two months, I have been advocating for and speaking out to help get nonconsensual revenge porn legislation passed in New York State. I have been in contact with NY State Council Members and have agreed to testify before a State Senate Committee if necessary. In my case, the revenge porn pictures that were used were both the photos I consented to have taken and photos that I did not consent to, and the current law only protects against the dissemination of the images I did not know about. Nonetheless, the damage is still the same no matter how the photos came to exist. Even with criminal charges against revenge porn, it still doesn’t take away the emotional pain and destruction of what’s left of your life. They say, “it takes one to know one,” so let me add to that by saying you can and will survive this, speak up and raise your voice, shout out your truth to anyone who will listen.

The Internet can be your best voice or your worst enemy!

If you are affected by revenge porn, online harassment or anything else mentioned in this post please make use of our Global Support Service or visit our Total Access Support section to find out about the various ways we can help you. For further information about Cybersmile and the work we do, please explore the following suggestions.

If you’d like to share your story with us, please email info@cybersmile.org and someone will be in contact. To follow Stephanie’s story you can visit her website here.