When online gender-based violence is of an intimate nature, and takes the form of “revenge porn” or other sexual attacks, it is often very difficult for survivors to come forward, out of a sense of embarrasment or shame. Isabella’s story shows that, with courage, survivors can come forward to educate others about their experiences, and that solutions need to place the blame on the perpetrators and deal with their actions.
Isabella is a 17 year-old teenage girl. She was born in Jauja, a region in the central highlands of Perú, in a traditional household. They moved to Lima when Isabella was a child and was about to start school. She’s the oldest of 3 siblings and since there’s a 10 year gap between her and her youngest sister, she has been involved with her care and upbringing. She’s seen as a role model in her family and has developed a strong sense of security, which brings with it a lot of pressure.
She lives in Carabayllo, in the northern area of the city of Lima. Carabayllo is known to be a lower-income district. Internet connection is not very good there and expensive given her family’s means,, and there are not many options of service providers available. During the pandemic Isabella and her classmates had a rough time adapting to online classes and feel as if they have lost a lot of time. This makes Isabella frustrated about her future and overall education, and impacts her motivation.
But even in this difficult context, Isabella faced an even more acute and distressing challenge. She recently discovered that her ex-boyfriend – who she broke up with 2 months ago because he was becoming increasingly possessive – has shared intimate photos of her online.
She felt very ashamed and didn’t know who to talk to. Her family was not an option, because her parents didn’t approve of her relationship and its potential impact on her studies and family responsibilities. But when she met him, she felt free and enjoyed his company, and began to trust him very quickly. As a teenager, newly exploring her sexuality, she shared intimate photos with him, thinking it was a safe way to express herself.
Knowledge is power
At first, she didn’t even know how to put into words how she felt. She knew she had been betrayed, but also felt guilty for trusting in him in the first place. She decided to confront him and ask him for explanations. However, before doing that, she began researching online for guidance on the implications and consequences of her choice.
Her research confirmed that she had been a victim of a type of gender-based violence. She also learnt that she would potentially have to deal with her images becoming viral, and not knowing who had access to her images. She prepared herself for retaliation if she confronted him, and for the situation to become worse, but knew it was her only option and chance to hold him accountable for his actions. As expected, her confrontation was met with threats and further abuse.
This story was told with assistance from Hiperderecho, a member of the Women’s Rights Online (WRO) network.