'You're absolutely not alone' – A powerful message from the woman who fought revenge porn, and won

Mimi Launder
Thursday 08 March 2018 08:15
Celebrities

"You think Chrissy Chambers is a role model? She's actually a whore, look at these videos."

It was only after reading this comment that American YouTube star Chrissy Chambers discovered what had happened.

Googling her own name with increasing dread, she was led to porn websites where she encountered videos of herself – naked, unconscious, while her boyfriend at the time had sex with her. Comments on social media said she looked like a corpse.

Four years previously, she and a British man who she had fallen wildly in love with - and then out of love with - broke up. That night, when he suggested they drink together, she got drunk enough to not remember much the next morning. He, she now realised, had stayed comparatively sober.

At the point Chrissy saw the videos, she was leading a different life from her 18-year-old self: she was 22-years-old, happily in a relationship with a woman, Bria Kam, with whom she co-ran a successful YouTube channel where they made music and campaigned for LGBT+ issues.

She told indy100 that in the spiral of shock, she and Bria's first wish upon learning of the videos was that they just go away. But, among the fear and desperation, was a far-flung hope to help others.

All we wanted was for them to disappear. But I remember turning to Bria and saying:

"I know that we don't want to have to deal with this. But I hope one day we can use this story to help other people."

Now aged 26, Chrissy​ has won the first civil revenge porn case in the UK and is inspiring people globally.

In January this year, Chrissy won unprecedented damages against her ex-boyfriend for harassment, breach of confidence and misuse of private private information, a ruling that will pave the way for justice for more victims.

Celebrating her victory on the steps of the High Court, she dropped to one knee and proposed to Bria, who immediately said yes and called Chrissy "the bravest, most incredibly human being I've ever met", according to The Guardian.

Chrissy had forged her plan to propose last minute, leaving just a day-and-a-half to scramble to find a perfect ring. The result, Chrissy told indy100, was "a dream come true".

Revenge porn, which is when nude images or videos of someone are shared online without their consent, is illegal in the UK.

But the seven videos of Chrissy, all filmed without her consent, were posted online in 2011 before the law had been passed, meaning it did not apply.

Determined not to give up on winning monetary damages and copyright of the videos, Chrissy and Bria crowdfunded enough money to launch a civil case against her ex.

Her lawyer, Ann Olivarius, told The Telegraph that what happened to Chrissy wasn't just revenge porn, it was rape - but they felt it necessary to focus their efforts on the civic route due to a lack of faith that the system would prosecute:

We have been to the police on it, but what percentage of women really get justice for this?

The pair didn't know how long they would have to go to fight for to get justice. At times, the struggle seemed potentially infinite and the motivation would slip away.

Initially, they were told it would take up two years to reach court, as laws would have to be changed. That sounded bad enough, Chrissy told indy100. But the reality was far more demanding.

We were trying to fight just to keep our dedication going.

And for it to be two and half years longer than that, the total four and a half years, was so gruelling.

I think, in the last two years, we thought it would never be done.

But I would want to tell people that even if it feels like an eternity, it's worth trying to fight through. It's worth trying to reclaim you dignity. 

While fighting her court case, Chrissy continued – and continues now – to push for change in revenge porn law, even winning the support of Hillary Clinton during her 2016 presidential election campaign.

Chrissy believes that Clinton losing the election to Donald Trump slowed much of the momentum she and other activists had gained. She told indy100:

It probably shelved so many legal pursuits, particularly around protecting women or having to do with sexual assault and sexual harassment. It seems like we're at a gridlock right now.

But I'm not going to give up certainly.

Significant doubt remains over the effectiveness of existing law both in the UK and the US to deal with the complexities associated with revenge porn cases.

Picture: Chrissy Chambers asks Hillary Clinton how she will help stop revenge porn on the internet (Getty Chambers / ROBYN BECK / Staff)

"I know you feel the most alone you've ever felt, but you're not."

A YouTuber at heart, Chrissy has taken to her channel to talk about her struggles with alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder caused by traumatic events, which has mired the years since she discovered she was a victim of revenge porn.

Her alcoholism culminated in Bria finding Chrissy passed out from drinking too much one evening and she was rushed to the ER. Chrissy later admitted that she could have died.

Publicly declaring your struggles seems breathtakingly brave and unlikely to be high up on many people's list after experiencing trauma. For Chrissy, making the videos was not only a public triumph and a way to support other victims, but a personal one too, she explained to indy100.

I knew Bria didn't fully understand how much this was hindering me from being able to do even basic tasks, like remembering something when walking from one room to the next when I have a really good memory.

Or how the effects of it were coming into every single aspect of my life.

Like not getting sleep consistently for months on end, how that affects you, and how much your brain is foggy.

Or, if you've having these triggered thoughts, how much they consume you. 

She added that making the videos helped her explain to Bria how seriously PTSD affected her:

It was inspired by struggling with my partner to - certainly not have compassion, she has so much endless compassion – but for her to get how bad it was, and for other people who have suffered from that to see that I understood.

So many people have said 'I've shown this to my partner or my family' and it just gave them a better glimpse into how difficult this is.

Now, she has now given up alcohol and receives trauma therapy. But her PTSD cannot be fixed so easily.

The night before indy100 interviewed her, Chrissy said she had around seven night terrors where she thought someone was trying to hurt her.

It's still an ongoing battle – and it will be. With PTSD and anxiety, the results of the trauma just don't go away very quickly, as any victim will understand.

However, since her victory in court where she said she was able to reclaim her dignity, Chrissy says it has gotten easier.

It's ongoing, but I've definitely noticed improvements.

My sleep is improving for the most part.

I'm just feeling a little less on edge and it's such a huge weight lifted, which I'm grateful for.

Chrissy's story is yet another we can add to the overwhelming pile of evidence that movements such as #MeToo and Time's Up are urgent, valuable and bursting with hope.

Since #MeToo started, Chrissy said that much of the online hate has been chased away by messages of support, unity and love.

There's already so much that has changed with people respecting victims, especially women, letting their voices be empowered and heard and standing up to fight for justice alongside them.

All of those things have really helped people to have a new level of compassion for revenge porn victims and certainly myself and my case and other people who are struggling through that too

Revenge porn is a form of sexual assault as well as sexual harassment, and so many people have come forward relating to that.

People are just getting more supportive, which I'm so appreciative of. 

Personally for Chrissy, it was liberating seeing those two simple phrases – #MeToo and Time's Up – hitting global headlines.

I just felt a camaraderie with people standing together united saying: 'we're going to support each other, we're not going to hide from this, we're not going to be shamed into silence'.

She added that the extent of the abuse might have shocked the world, but it didn't surprise many women.

[Men] were so shocked, which is crazy.

Women have known this probably for millennia.

I've been together with friends before, groups of five or four women, and usually if it goes to a conversation about 'have you ever been assaulted?', every single person raises their hand.

I think that men have been blind and shielded from it.

Culture has taught us not to see it, but now they're listening. Or at least the good ones are. 

A recent Australian survey revealed that one in five have been victims of revenge porn, far more than the researchers expected, while another study found revenge porn survivors often experience PTSD, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Forty per cent of women with severe mental illness are victims of rape or attempted rape, a UCL survey found.

For anyone struggling with similar issues, Chrissy has some words of advice.

I know you feel the most alone you've ever felt, but you're not.

There are people and organisations who want to support you, who want to back you up to help you fight for justice, who want to listen, who want to offer a supportive hug.

You're absolutely not alone.

There is nothing you did to deserve this.

There are things you can do to fight back and try to get justice.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact the Revenge Porn Helpline on 0345 6000 459 or the The Survivors Trust helpline on 0808 801 0818.

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