How long before perpetrators of revenge porn and cyber-bullying pay the price?

Earlier this month Saint Lucia experienced another chilling episode concerning use of the Internet to malign or blackmail a woman. The matter was reported by the STAR (9 January). Of course, many other similar incidents have gone unreported, mainly because those targeted are reluctant to come forward – reminiscent of rape victims. However, this week two victims of so-called “revenge porn” sat down to tell the STAR how they found themselves targets of cyber-bullying by former lovers.

“We had been together for nine months and I trusted him,” said Sandra – not her real name. “It turned out to be the worst mistake I’ve ever made.” As Sandra recalled it: “The whole thing started almost right after we started being intimate.” Especially when they were apart, he would request explicit pictures. And although she was never comfortable with the idea, she sent him nude photos.

Opposition Leader Gale Rigobert has been speaking out against rape and cyber-bullying. But how effective have her words been?

Opposition Leader Gale Rigobert has been speaking out against rape and cyber-bullying.  But how effective have her words been?

“I convinced myself it was no big deal. It’s pretty common that women send their lovers explicit pictures of themselves. He was my boyfriend. It never occurred to me that he’d want to hurt me as he did.” For reasons Sandra chose not to discuss, she ended the relationship, a decision that did not go down well with her boyfriend. “He retaliated at first by telling embarrassing tales about me. He said I was seeing someone else and didn’t have the guts to tell him the truth. Not much later he threatened to circulate the pictures I’d sent him if I didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear.”

So far it appears he has not carried out his threats but Sandra lives every day in fear that he will. “I don’t know how I would react, what I would say to relatives and close friends, if the pictures should show up on the Internet or in the wrong hands,” said Sandra. “It’s a terrible position to be in.” In contrast, a former bank employee told me she had to leave town after explicit pictures of her were put on the Internet by a former lover.

“We were actually engaged,” said Fiona, “but he became extremely controlling. If I wanted to visit friends on my own, he would angrily demand whether I would go out alone after we were married.” In spite of the fiancé’s attitude they decided to share an apartment, which is when he took to battering Fiona. “I loved him very much,” she confessed, “but I decided, for my personal safety, to pack up and move out.”

Just days later she noticed two girls at her workplace pointing at her and giggling. “It seemed odd but it was not until I took my lunch break and picked up my phone that the sad truth hit me. I could not believe I was seeing a sex tape I had done with my former fiancé and another girl,” said Fiona, “and I realized it was being circulated. Even more hurtful were the related texts. I was devastated. I left work and tried calling him from home but he would not take my calls.”

They made contact the next day and he denied any responsibility. He said he suspected someone else had used his computer. Sandra knew better, if too late. “People were saying all kinds of things about me and coming to my workplace just to see who I was. To tell you the truth, at one point I actually contemplated suicide.” She has since taken refuge in the U.S. “But everytime I bump into a Saint Lucian,” she told me via Skype, “my heart drops. I can never be certain who has not seen me as only a lover should.”

In a recent interview opposition leader Gale Rigobert raised this question: Do women have an immediate sense of what their rights are where cyber-bullying is concerned? “There are a lot of women,” she said, “who are being blackmailed in so many ways. But I have always said women must never be ashamed for having consensually agreed to sexual acts. What you do with someone you love should not be held against you. Neither should being a victim of rape. It is the perpetrator who should be ashamed of himself, who should be shunned, exposed and prosecuted.”

Encouraging wise words, yes, but it will be a while before Saint Lucians fully understand the lesson in Rigobert’s words. And that’s a pity.

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