A blog by Norma Buster, our Client Relations Manager
Finally. That was my first thought when I learned in early 2016, during the criminal prosecution of my ex-boyfriend, that I’d have the opportunity to have my say in court.
A year earlier, he had posted my private, naked photos online; the culmination of a months-long campaign of stalking. Finally, I could confront him.
He was being charged with invasion of privacy, a third-degree crime in New Jersey, and he took a plea deal to drop an additional cyber-harassment charge. Of course, it was criminal courts, so I wasn’t the one bringing the charges against him, it was the State of New Jersey vs. C.M.
I’d had contact with the prosecutor and contributed all the evidence I had, and I was certainly glad that he was being held accountable for the devastation he had caused, but ultimately I wasn’t in control of the process. On sentencing day, the judge would decide what the consequences were for my ex. He faced up to five years of probation or prison, and a $30,000 fine. By writing and reading aloud my victim impact statement I could speak directly to the judge. This would be my one chance to fully impress upon the judge, and my ex, how what he had done had affected me.
One in 25 Americans has been a victim of threats or posts of nearly nude or nude images without their permission, according to the Center for Innovative Public Health Research. But each of us is more than a statistic. We are a full human being with hopes, dreams, relationships, jobs – and NCP can destroy all of these.
The victim impact statement can be a powerful tool in the sentencing decisions made in court – in some ways it’s the first time that case facts become human, the first time the judge is faced with the victim in front of them. And it’s often the first time the survivor can speak to the abuser in a place they know they’re physically safe.
On top of the potential effect my statement could make on how the case was sentenced, it was truly the first time I could finally face my ex.
It was a year since I had found the impersonating, doxxing Pornhub profile he made of me with my naked pictures and personal information, and I hadn’t ever confronted him because I was terrified it would escalate his behavior.
I had managed to get the pictures taken down quite quickly after finding them, but I feared that if I provoked him in any way he’d go to Twitter or Instagram with my nudes where they would spread even further – to places where all my future employers or dating partners would look, or directly to my friends and family. So, I never contacted him again, ignoring his barrage of desperate messages and fake suicides. I had been frozen in fear until an internet search led me to this law firm. I work here now, but my journey with C.A. Goldberg, PLLC started when they helped me obtain a restraining order in Family Court and connected me with a prosecutor who opened a criminal investigation against my ex that would lead to his charges.
Sentencing day was the first time my ex would hear me speak since the revenge porn, and he’d have the added pressure of an entire courtroom listening – not just the judge, but his family, my family and friends, and press. On that day in March of 2016, when asked if he had anything to say, he simply offered an apology to the court and to “her” (he couldn’t even say my name). Then it was my turn to speak.
I had been preparing for this for weeks. I put a lot of thought into my victim impact statement, wanting everyone in the room, especially the judge and my ex-boyfriend, to feel the weight of my words. As I spoke, my voice remained steady and I felt powerful, knowing every single person in the room was hearing my side. When the judge sentenced my ex to the maximum probation allowed, I was so relieved that I could go home feeling that I had been heard.
My experience as a client of C.A. Goldberg, PLLC was not dissimilar to many clients that we help with stalking, harassment, blackmail, intimate partner violence, and other privacy violations. Not everyone who goes through the criminal justice system chooses to make a victim impact statement. But it was important for my case and reading it aloud was a moment of power that will stick with me forever.
If you are considering starting a victim impact statement, it can be daunting. Where to begin? It might help to break it down in to a few sections: the physical, emotional, and financial effects the crime had on you.
When writing mine, I started by thinking about my first reaction to seeing my private naked photos online. I recalled the thoughts that raced through my mind at that moment. I pinpointed the feeling of my world imploding. Have you ever had a moment like that? It rocks you to your core and it festers there. I reflected on the year that had passed, and considered the ongoing effects that moment had on me—the constant fear and paranoia that I couldn’t shake, the all-consuming dread that it would happen again.
I wanted my ex to hear all of that, but I also knew I was speaking to the court and would need to articulate my feelings in a way that the judge would understand and take into consideration.
That’s why I found my attorney’s support really valuable when crafting my victim impact statement – throughout the process they didn’t just advocate for me, they explained how the system worked and how I could have the best shot at justice.
After losing control of my image, my victim impact statement gave me the opportunity to take back control over how people saw me. I was not the worst thing that ever happened to me, I was a survivor who refused to be shamed in to silence. I had moved from victim to warrior. My victim impact statement is below. Feel free to take inspiration from it.
I ended my relationship with [C.M.] in November of 2014, which is nearly a year and a half ago. I never imagined that I would still be dealing with the repercussions of this breakup until today. Over the course of our two-year relationship, from the age of 17 to 19, I sent [C.M.] intimate, private photos of myself, to which he agreed to and solemnly promised not to share with anyone, ever. I trusted him, and I trusted that no matter what, he would never show anyone those photos. I was utterly shocked and demoralized when I found those same photos that I sent to him on the pornography website, Pornhub.com, in a fake account with my name on it, along with my phone number, street name, and town.
I still remember my reaction to finding the online page, which was that of shock, horror, and panic. I was humiliated. I immediately began shaking and felt my eyes welling up with tears. I felt betrayed and exposed. I thought of my parents, friends, coworkers, and schoolmates, and was deeply concerned about the shame I would feel if any of them saw the images. I was embarrassed when my mother told me two weeks later that she had found two Tumblr pages created on the same day as the Pornhub page also containing the same intimate photos of myself that only [C.M.] had possessed—I was ashamed and utterly mortified. My mother had been searching online to ensure that the photos had not been circulated throughout the Internet, and I was frightened to wonder whether the pictures had been distributed elsewhere. I worried about future job opportunities being affected if these pictures were circulated throughout the Internet. I became nervous and scared, because he put my phone number, street name, town, and full name online along with my intimate photos—I could only imagine if the wrong person had seen this information. I was afraid for my safety, afraid that a sex offender would be able to locate me after seeing my photos and my information. After all, it was through a stranger that I learned of the page—the person sent me a text message saying he had acquired my phone number through the Pornhub page. I had heard so many horror stories of girls getting raped or killed because a terrible, disturbed person had somehow acquired their locational information online and came after them, and I was petrified that the same could happen to me.
These photos had been posted without my permission, without a doubt by the one and only person who had possession of them, [C.M.]. He had been angry that I had broken up with him, and had become obsessed with me. He admitted in the hearing concerning my final restraining order against him that he had acted obsessively about me and had told lies about terrible events (including death, terminal illness, and other tragedies) occurring in his family so that I would keep speaking to him. However, I never thought he would go so far as to expose my private photos to the world.
Over the course of time after the breakup, and even after he committed this terrible wrong, I felt trapped. I felt like there was nothing I could do to stop him—if I were to confront him, he could get angry and put the private photos online on other websites and forms of social media. I felt that I was in a way in a prison–he had the one thing that he knew would hurt me more than anything and I could not protect myself from that. I was trapped; stuck; imprisoned by him. That’s why I do not think that probation is enough of a sentence for [C.M.]. He had been threatening to distribute the photos months before he actually made the Pornhub and Tumblr accounts with my name, private photos, and contact information. This was not a rash action; this was a cruel decision that he intentionally made.
One of the great things about the American government as compared to so many countries around the world is its justice system. There are laws in place to protect people, such as the laws that protect my right to privacy, and when individuals break those laws, they face the consequences. Not only was I deeply humiliated, disgraced, angered, and disheartened by Chris’s inexcusable decision to post my intimate photos online, but he broke a law. I do not think that he should be able to get away with such an atrocious offence. He should be convicted of the charges against him, and he should suffer the consequences of his actions.
I cannot get back my privacy that had been invaded when those pictures were online. I do not know how many people saw them, I do not know how many people saved them, and every single day I think about the fact that other people have seen me in my most private state. I do not think that [C.M.] should be able to cause me such anguish without suffering the legal consequences for his cruel actions.
- The powerful victim impact statement from another C.A. Goldberg, PLLC client In The Cut. “It’s hard to explain how I felt when I realized that all of the harassment I had endured was actually perpetrated by the man I was in love with.”
- Stalker take-down team honored by attorney general’s office
- Free resource: How to report revenge porn on social media
Were you sexually assaulted or stalked by someone you met online?
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