We will not become quieter smaller versions of ourselves

By Dr. Lucie Moore, Chief Executive of CEASE

This is an anonymous testimony from ‘Sarah’ on our Expose the Harm website. 

 “When I was growing up (16-18yrs), it was found out that the boys in our area had created a private Facebook group, literally with hundreds of boys in it, sharing intimate images of their girlfriends or girls in the area, all without their knowledge or consent. Many of these girls were underage. It was like they were swapping collectible cards or something and used as a bonding experience between them, at our expense. It was like they didn’t even view us as human. I got quite depressed after hearing about this and it made me very afraid of men” 

She ends her account with these words:  

“A lot of the girls who were exposed never fully recovered. They either moved away or became much quieter/smaller versions of themselves.” 

It was that last line that came back to me when I saw the news last week that deep-fake pornographic images of Taylor Swift have been circulating online.  
The threat of this kind of abuse is very real, particularly for women and girls. Those in public leadership, with successful careers, who are considered glamourous or beautiful are easy to take a shot at.  

But it is also happening to school children, students, ‘normal’ women who are suddenly notified by a brave and embarrassed friend – that they are on PornHub and someone has used AI to generate pornographic content of them. The impact is brutal, as survivors of this abuse are telling us – it is traumatising and long-lasting. 
The fear that this could happen to you might be enough to dissuade women from any kind of career that requires visibility, at a time when we need more women in public, civic and commercial leadership, not fewer. I certainly considered it when I took up this post.  
But whether you are Taylor Swift or a woman who just tries to lay low, the threat is real. And Sarah’s testimony reminds us that exploitation and abuse can cause people to become “quieter/smaller versions of themselves” because of the terror of what can happen when you take up space, speak out loud, look too pretty, don’t look pretty enough. 

Since the news broke, a cross-party group of US senators have introduced the ‘Defiance act’ seeking to make the spread of these deepfake images illegal, new criminal offences came into force in the UK to criminalise image-based sexual abuse and cyberflashing, and Pornhub announced some new measures (though limited) to verify the age and consent of those in the videos they host. 

Change is coming: thanks to the courage of countless victims and survivors, who have led the charge. So, alongside these big shifts in law and policy, I wanted to highlight three moments from the last week where I was reminded of the impact of speaking up together, refusing to be quiet and the power of persistent, collective demands for change.  

  • 1. Learning about the Phoenix 11 a collective of abuse survivors who have come together to advocate for better regulation, protection and accountability. They, along with many other survivors had questions for Meta, ahead of the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday. 
  • 2. Another Body the powerful film about Deepfake Porn was showcased in parliament last week, bringing together survivors, academics and politicians to discuss the issue –  
  • 3. The story of a group of women whose courage, mutual support and collaboration brought their abuser to justice, posted by Natalie Collins, a gender justice campaigner and part of the group.  

Abuse can make people small and quiet. But these moments remind me that we can also take up space, with or on behalf of the abused and be very, very loud.

Photo credit Getty Images from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-68123671