AnnMarie Chiarini

Revenge Porn Almost Ruined Her Life, But Now She's Saying, 'Welcome To Our World, Jerks!'

Revenge porn is still legal in most states and AnnMarie Chiarini is fighting to change that.

Did you know it’s perfectly legal in most of the U.S. for someone to post naked pictures of you online against your will?

That exact thing happened to AnnMarie Chiarini several years ago. After the pictures were posted online and sent to both her boss and her son’s kindergarten teacher, she was scoffed at by the police. She felt so terrified and ashamed that she tried to end her own life. She survived it, and then decided to take a stand. Chiarini went public about her experience, became instrumental in changing the laws in her home state of Maryland, and joined forces with the Cyber Rights Initiative to advocate for other victims of revenge porn.

AnneMarie Chiarini/Al Jazeera

We sat down with Chiarini to talk about putting an end to revenge porn, and the incredible irony of the revenge porn boss who is demanding that Google remove all of his photos and “identity related” information from searches.

"Very few people ever said, 'Oh my God, that’s horrible, I can’t believe he did that to you'.”

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MTV: In your writing about being a victim of revenge porn, you have described the shame, depression, and anxiety it caused you. How has that experience shaped your life in the years since?

AnnMarie Chiarini: It has shaped it dramatically. Going through this forced me to find my voice and my ability to speak up for myself, and to take a stand against something that was very wrong… It has also taken something that I love, which is helping people, and allowed me to apply it to so many different aspects of my life.

On the other side… I do still struggle with some symptoms of PTSD. It’s been several years now and I’m finally weaning off the anti-anxiety medication and starting to recover and heal from that. I still have nightmares every now and again. I still flinch when I open my email sometimes. So there are a handful of negative effects that are still with me. But there are many more positive effects.

AnnMarie Chiarini

MTV: How did victim-blaming play into your experience?

Chiarini: It was an absolute nightmare.

Law enforcement basically shook their heads and said, “Well, duh, what did you expect?” I got a lot of that. A lot of people said, “Of course you were going to end up on the internet.” And I’d think to myself, How do you know this? My ex [who posted the pics] was someone I went to high school with, someone I trusted—we were supposed to get married. I was in a committed, monogamous, long-term relationship. Why would I have any reason to believe that he would ever put these on the internet? Why would I expect this person to betray me? It’s just so illogical.

There’s this idea that women should enter relationships knowing that a guy is going to betray us, so we’d better watch our backs. And if we don’t watch our backs, it's our fault for being stupid. Nothing was ever said about his behavior. Very few people ever said, “Oh my God, that’s horrible, I can’t believe he did that to you.”

I had already blamed myself and beat myself up, I had already looked in the mirror and said, 'Oh my God, you stupid, stupid girl.' I did that and then I got over it and healed, so to have strangers who didn’t know me saying the same things to me…it was really disheartening and infuriating.

It’s a big part of the work I do now -- working to change attitudes toward victims.

"I was frustrated, so I said, 'I’m going to change the law in Maryland,' and then I emailed my senators and delegates."

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MTV: How did you become involved in changing the law in Maryland to criminalize revenge porn?

Chiarini: I just jumped in blindly to the legislative process. I really wasn’t aware of how legislation worked. I know that sounds ridiculous, but politics had just never been something I’d concerned myself with too much. I knew the basics, but that’s it. My decision was very flip. I was frustrated, so I said, "I’m going to change the law in Maryland," and then I emailed my senators and delegates, even though I was embarrassed and felt ashamed, and then we actually did it.

They’d send me drafts of the bill and I’d tell them what I liked, what I didn’t like, or ask questions. I knew nothing about the law—nothing—I was just coming at this from a victim’s point-of-view of what I needed. The magnitude of it still hasn’t really hit me.

AnnMarie Chiarini

MTV: Did anything ever happen to the guy who did this to you?

Chiarini: No. He was living in New Jersey at the time, and had the police in New Jersey been doing their job when I contacted them, he would have been charged with at least two misdemeanors. There was an invasion of privacy statute on the books there as a result of the Tyler Clementi case. But I didn’t know that. And neither did any of the officers I spoke with. The law in Maryland [did nothing then], but if he were to do this now...it would be a misdemeanor charge with up to $5,000 in fines and up to 2 years in jail.

MTV: Over half of victims of revenge porn are also victims of doxxing, meaning that identifying information--like names, home, work, and school addresses--is posted alongside nude images. This was also part of what happened to you. Why is this so dangerous?

Chiarini: This is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of revenge porn, because we’re talking about physical danger… It takes this abstract concept of people hiding behind a keyboard and saying nasty, vile things about women in the safety of their own rooms into real life--and that puts women in extraordinary danger. Even if personal information isn’t posted, a reverse image search can usually tell whoever is looking who we are and where we live. Everything is online. Nothing is private anymore. So revenge porn absolutely poses a real, physical threat to women.

AnneMarie Chiarini

MTV: What do you think about the recent conviction of revenge porn website owner Hunter Moore? What about Craig Brittain, the revenge porn boss who wants Google to remove all of his photos and links about his case?

Chiarini: I just think it’s fantastic. We’ve been popping champagne and doing little dances at Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. These two men tortured so many women and young girls. There was child pornography rampant on both of their sites. And they thought it was a joke…just a bunch of fun for them. And now poor Craig wants his links all taken down. It’s like, OH CRAIG, WELCOME TO OUR WORLD, JERK.

I was so happy when I heard that the Federal Trade Commission stepped in and put the hammer down. I’m actually getting a little weepy now, because this was huge for us. When this happened to me...I had nobody. There wasn’t even language to describe what had happened to me. The terms “revenge porn” and “non-consensual pornography” weren’t even in existence yet. I didn’t have resources, or anyone to turn to. I didn’t have websites. Knowing that the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, this tiny little grassroots organization, is making a difference, that the feds are on our side, is fantastic. It makes all the hard work and all the hours I’ve put in really, really worth it.

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MTV: What can we do to help with the fight to end revenge porn?

Chiarini: The very first thing is, learn. Educate yourself. It’s also important for peer groups to talk to each other really honestly about how they feel if they’re being pressured into sending nude images to a boy. No means no. Really what it comes down to is trusting your instincts. For anyone, no matter how old you are, trust your instincts.

If you’re a victim, or you know a victim, visit EndRevengePorn.org. We have a 24/7 call line available to help victims.

You can also sign our petition to criminalize revenge porn, or make a donation to help us change the laws and advocate for victims.