*Trigger Warning* this post discusses sexual assault and unsolicited explicit pictures.
About a year and a half ago I received unsolicited explicit pictures on Twitter. I didn’t ask for these pictures. I didn’t want to see them and I wasn’t prepared for the long-term effect that they have had on me.
Let me start at the beginning. I received an innocuous DM from a male teacher at a similar point in his career to me. We began to share resources and tips and became, in my eyes, professional friends on Twitter.
One day that all changed. On that day I opened my DMs to receive multiple explicit pictures. My initial reaction was one of horror. I immediately deleted the pictures. I can’t exactly explain why. I think perhaps I thought if I deleted them it would be like it hadn’t happened.
What I couldn’t shake was the feeling of shame and that I must be in some way responsible for those pictures being sent to me. I remember later going back to all of the previous messages and desperately scanning everything I had written to see if I had inadvertently given some sort of sign. With hindsight I know I didn’t, but it’s taken me a long time to reach that conclusion.
When the teacher in question got no reaction from me, he began to send me multiple messages. He told me to relax, I wanted to see them, it was no big deal and then he sent me another. This time I saved it. I’m forever thankful that I did. I’ve since learned that there will always be some people out there that will be disbelieving.
What I really want to discuss is the aftermath. This teacher was a ‘big name’ on Twitter. He had written for blogs and publications. He had thousands of followers and he was extremely active. People seemed to love him. I kept quiet because I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I told a couple of my close friends on and offline but that was it.
One day I felt brave enough to tell the right person and I found out this teacher had done this to other women, over 10. As more women have come forward the number is closer to 20. All of us felt too scared to say anything publicly. All of us felt like we wouldn’t be believed. There is a reason for that. Those who have experienced sexual assault (and this is a form of sexual assault) feel powerless. The act of the assault takes away any agency the recipient has and the attacker holds all of the power.
I don’t want to delve deeply into the psychology of sending unsolicited explicit pictures to women but I’d hazard a guess that it all comes down to power and control. Over a year and a half later and I still have awful anxiety about what happened. If I receive a DM from someone who is unfamiliar to me I can feel my hands start to shake and my heart rate quicken. Sometimes I get the same reaction if I receive a DM from a known person. Sometimes it even happens if it is a friend. I am working hard to control that reaction and remember that most people are good but I’m not there yet.
The reason I’m sharing this now is because this year I’ve decided to be braver. I’m going to speak out about injustices. I don’t want to be just be the ‘victim’. I only received a picture. I can’t begin to imagine how a physical attack would feel. I want any person who has experienced sexual assault to know that I will believe them.
I also want those who keep doing this to women on Twitter/social media that their time is up. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have or how big a name you are, you will no longer get away with this. And for any person out there who has experienced this my DMs are always open to you.