Mexico
Mexico
© Luis Arroyo

As a young adult, I recorded a sexual video with my boyfriend at the time. He asked me to engage in sexting. He was unfaithful, and I felt it would help us so that he might not seek other women. I did not understand many things about romantic love that I understand now.

He recorded the video so that only I was pictured. It became public, first via Whatsapp for a few months. I am from a small town.... Everyone knows you and your family.

Then the video was made public on Facebook. I liked riding. The first thing I saw was a photograph of me dressed as escaramuza charra [a traditional female equestrian] with the sentence: “Do you want to see how she really mounts?” The video was uploaded to dozens of porn pages or pack pages [website pages of photographs of girls, usually naked]. I received as many as 40 friendship requests daily, mainly from men asking for sex in exchange for deleting the video. One said if I had sex with a dog, he would delete the video.

"Your naked body became public without your permission, but people blame you because you let yourself be recorded."

I searched the Internet for what was going on and read it was called “revenge porn.” I felt more guilty, because if it is “porn,” I provoked it, and if it is “revenge,” I did something to deserve it.

I stopped going to school, avoiding many things because I was very embarrassed. Your naked body became public without your permission, but people blame you because you let yourself be recorded. In such a macho country, you are evil, a whore, a provocateur, and you come to believe them. I was disgusted by my own face and my body, not just because of the video but because of the teasing and commodification – whether you are fat, whether you have stretch marks or cellulite, what your hair looks like – all because you are a woman.

All that hate speech made me hate myself, even my name, because it was directly related to that video. I was reduced to being a sexual video for the consumption of male pleasure. I was not a person or student; I was nothing.

One Sunday, my family and I were watching a movie at home. Someone sent the video to my brother. My mother ran for the cell phone, but I snatched it and said, “Mum, please don’t watch it.” For my family not to see it was my only hope to not feel like the living dead.

My mum took the phone and cried while watching the video. I was very afraid, my body was burning. You feel guilty that you are harming your family. It is as if [the online harassers] raped you. They do not need to touch or penetrate you to violate you.

I had already tried to die by suicide three times but did not have the courage to do it. Every day I asked the universe to let me die. My mother saw I was desperate. The first thing she asked was: “Did you want everyone to see it?” I replied, “No, of course not.” She asked me, “Did you want people to see you as they are seeing you and make fun of you?” I replied, “No, I never wanted that.” “Then it is not your fault,” she comforted me. “It would be very shameful for me to see a video of you stealing, murdering, hitting a puppy, becoming corrupt. But a video of you having sex, loving, trusting, living your sexuality does not embarrass me.” Then she told me in front of my whole family, "Dear, we all have sex, your brother, your dad, your cousins have sex, I myself have sex. The difference is that here people see you, but that doesn't make you a criminal and that doesn't make you a bad person. Fight, daughter, because you are not at fault.”

She was the first person to say that I was not to blame. My grandmother was of a similar opinion. I told my mother, “It is not only the video, but I also can't step out of the house because they tease my body. I feel much shame. I can no longer live here. I am a prisoner.” For me, the pandemic was nothing new. I had already lived locked in my house by machismo, misogyny and mockery. The virus that scared me the most was the re-victimization of our bodies.

After I found a support group, I started to see that there were more cases like mine and decided to file a complaint with the district attorney. They said if I had been a minor, the crime would have been child abuse, but since I was of legal age there was nothing they could do for me. Other women who had experienced what I had but didn’t have support from their families or had to leave the town filled me with anger.

Image-based abuse

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Sensitive Content

This photo contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing

Sensitive Content

This photo contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing

Sensitive Content

This photo contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing

Sensitive Content

This photo contains sensitive content which some people may find offensive or disturbing

Image-based abuse

The use of imagery, often sexual in nature, to objectify, exploit, humiliate or harass. Examples include non-consensual sharing of intimate imagery aka non-consensual porn and child sexual abuse material (showing minors in sexually explicit situations).

Mayors of Puebla
© Mayors of Puebla

I decided to do something about it by fighting for reform, for digital violence to be recognized and punished. It is called “Olimpia’s Law.” The first challenge was the re-victimization. Legislators, societies and people in general did not understand that the victims are not the culprits. “They were recorded [because] they wanted to; why should we be defending them?” “Why is that violence if they practically provoked it?”

"We had to defend ourselves that we were not guilty, that our bodies are not a crime."

It happens to dozens of women, and the systematization of violence we perceive in offline spaces is passed online. The second challenge was the sexual taboo that gives it greater stigma. The third obstacle is that people thought there was no crime because it was virtual. When you say, “I suffered digital violence,” people laugh at you. Commenters even made memes of us saying: “Are you going to place me in a virtual jail?”

For me real justice began then. It took away the fear of my name, my body, my life, and also the fear of navigating the web, the fear of being public. The law has taught me that we have the right to be safe in digital spaces, and that we have to build an Internet that above all protects our security and respects our human rights. Even if you can’t see or touch it, the virtual realm is real. We have created a hashtag that refers to what we have tolerated in this fight, #LoVirtualEsReal [The Virtual is Real].

Even after many years, I get a burning sensation and discomfort in my chest when I see that I have many notifications, because you live in constant fear that it will spread again. It's like some kind of cancer.

What we want is not just reform. What we want is a world free of violence for women and girls. Government should not only be interested in economic crimes like phishing, identity theft and credit card number theft, but also crimes that do not involve something material but that damage the integrity and privacy of individuals.

We do nothing by changing legislation if there is no awareness, if we continue to

"innovate technologically but are not teaching people not to dehumanize that technology."

We are not computers, we are not tablets, we are people. There is no celebrating this reform if women continue to be commodified in other areas. Consciousness, then, is a fundamental part of change.

To the aggressors: You become an accomplice when you do not stop the chain of harassment. You do not know that [sexually explicit] images reduce that person, and that you could be killing her every time you like or share it. This does not mean that there are no victimized men, but we are responsible for the oppressions when we click.

To the victims or survivors of this violence: It is not your fault. When one takes ownership, fear changes sides. Why do we have to ask forgiveness for living our sexuality, for loving, for trusting? Not us. What crime do our bodies commit? None. The criminals are those who spread, who share, who violate our bodies. We should not be the ones who hide.

Ms. Melo Cruz founded Frente Nacional Para La Sororidad (National Sorority Front), an organization that has successfully campaigned for Ley Olimpia (Olimpia's Law), sanctioning the dissemination of sexual content without consent, which is punishable by up to six years in prison.

84%

In Mexico, women account for 84 per cent of cases of image-based abuse reported to authorities.

– Luchadoras, cyberactivist organization

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WHAT CAN I DO?

For everybody

do more

For technology companies

do better

For lawmakers and law enforcement

do right
Disrupt digital violence

Take Action

A virtual world free of violence is possible. UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, supports the right of all women and girls to live without fear of gender-based violence or abuse in all spaces, including online. Everyone plays a role in making this more than a hope but a reality.

WHAT CAN I DO?

For everybody:

DO more

Anyone who shares another’s intimate images without her consent – even if a sharer is not the original perpetrator – is committing violence against women. Let the disruption start with you. See people attacking, bullying or threatening someone online? Don’t join in. Post positive messages to counter the negative. Report the abuse to the technology platform. One cybermob attack survivor said she felt seen and supported by people who defended her.

For technology companies:

DO better

UNFPA joined the World Wide Web Foundation in its call to Facebook, Google, TikTok and Twitter to prioritize the safety of women online, holding them to the pledges made to do so during the 2021 Generation Equality Forum in Paris. But there are many more platforms. In the words of Thorn, which works to end online child sexual abuse, “We won’t achieve the goal of building an Internet that is safe until every platform with an upload button has adopted proactive detection measures.”

For lawmakers and law enforcement:

DO RIGHT

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, “In 64 of 86 countries, law enforcement agencies and courts appear to be failing to take appropriate  corrective actions to address online violence against women.” Lawmakers need to recognize the pervasive and prevalent nature of the violence and support legislative and regulatory responses that meet the needs of women and girls, including creation and resourcing of independent monitoring and regulatory bodies. For example, Australia’s Office of the E-Safety Commissioner is serving as a model for countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom in addressing online safety. Seeking justice should not have to be another traumatizing experience.