I was blackmailed for nudes and it nearly cost me my future

‘I was told I was a dirty, horrible, disgusting person by my school over my revenge porn case’

In the summer of 2016, Maeve* was getting ready to sit her GCSE biology exam, when she was sent the exact exam paper she was about to take from a boy she had been speaking to online. What quickly followed resulted in Maeve being blackmailed and her explicit images shared on social media.

Maeve is one of the many survivors of revenge porn, a crime that has been in the news more than ever after Georgia Harrison accused her ex-boyfriend Stephen Bear of filming her and sharing the sexually explicit video without her consent.

Stephen Bear has consistently denied the accusation. Georgia Harrison claimed she was going to take him to court. Stephen Bear was then arrested in late January.

If Georgia’s case is taken to court she will be one of the few survivors whose case actually results in a trial. BBC Scotland reported in 2018 only 39 per cent of revenge porn cases were referred to prosecutors. But cases of revenge porn are rising and the threat to share explicit images is still legal. Something needs to change.

The Tab spoke to a survivor of revenge porn, Maeve, who was blackmailed into sharing explicit images which were then shared on social media. She tells us of the torment she went through, describing the initial months after her images were shared as “the worst” of her life. This is her story:

I thought the police would laugh me out of the building

Maeve had met a fellow GCSE student, Jack*, on Twitter in the weeks leading up to her exams and they quickly formed a friendship. They bonded over the pressures of exams, he offered to help her with any studying, and as Maeve attended an all girls school it was refreshing for her to just be speaking to a guy. Maeve and Jack would speak multiple times a day on Twitter and she considered him one of her friends. They would talk about everything typical 16 year olds do – prom, GCSEs and making that post exam summer the best one ever.

The night before her biology exam Maeve made a throwaway comment to Jack about her worries for the exam. The next day a few minutes before she was due to go into the exam hall Maeve was in the girls’ loos getting ready to put her stuff away before the exam. And then Jack sent her an exam paper. Having done all the past papers, she quickly panicked as she realised this was the paper she was about to sit.

Sure enough, when she sat at her desk and opened the paper it was the one she had been sent. After the exam Maeve and two of her friends agreed she should not share that she had been given the paper as they’d heard stories of people getting disqualified for far less in previous years. They all agreed Maeve should block Jack.

When Maeve went to confront Jack and tell him she was going to block him, he quickly told her if she did he would report her to her school for cheating on her biology exam. Panicked, Maeve asked Jack what it would take for him to go away. He requested explicit images from her.

Maeve wanted to rid of him, and so she sent Jack the images he asked for and told him she was now going to block him. However he did not take this well and shared her photos with her friends on Twitter.

One of her friends quickly alerted her to the situation and encouraged her to report it to the police. But Maeve was 16 years old, in the middle of studying for her GCSEs and quite frankly had no idea what to do. There was also the more worrying addition that Maeve had recently been sexually assaulted on her way home from school and so she didn’t think the police would believe her a second time around.

Maeve told The Tab she thought the police would “laugh her out the building” and blame her for getting herself into the situation, so she didn’t report it.

via Photo by M. on Unsplash

My school told me I was a dirty, horrible, disgusting person

Putting the situation behind her, Maeve continued revising and was sitting one of her exams, when she was pulled out of the exam hall and accused of soliciting exam papers in exchange for explicit images. It turned out a girl Maeve was once close friends with had also been sent the images and she went to the exam board and school and twisted the story.

Maeve told the head teacher what had happened, but they did not believe her and had reported the incident to the police. She was told she would have to leave the building after the meeting had finished, her phone would be taken for the police and there was a high chance she would be disqualified from all her exams.

On top of not believing her, the school told her she was a “dirty, horrible, disgusting person” and what she had done was “awful”. According to Maeve there was no awareness on the school’s part that what had happened to her was actually illegal.

It wasn’t until she reached the police station that she was treated with any respect and reminded that she had actually been blackmailed. They also informed her of the crimes Jack had committed against her which included – blackmail, possessing pornographic images of a minor and revenge porn.

The police were working with a unit up North where Jack was from and ensuring the images were disposed of. Maeve credits a particular police officer with offering her and her family incredible support throughout.

She said: “To this day, he was the person that made us feel protected and safe, and also made it seem like everything was going to be okay.

“In this whole situation where the world was falling down, he was the one person who kind of kept me from jumping off a cliff.”

People at my school started a petition to get me removed

Though the police were helpful, Maeve’s school and social life became a nightmare. She was allowed to come back to complete her GCSEs on the condition she signed an NDA to not discuss what had happened.

However people still knew what had gone on and the rumour mill began. Things got so blown out of proportion that people began spreading rumours she had slept with an examiner and made a sex tape.

Meanwhile Maeve was unsure if she would actually get her GCSEs as the exam board was angry at the situation and she lost many close friends.

She said: “I was just looking down the barrel of I’ve completely fucked my life up and I’m 16 years old. This is horrendous, I’m not getting any GCSE bar one.

“And this guy is still out and about doing whatever he wants and is living his life. It got to the point where people who are my good friends stopped talking to me.”

Though Maeve desperately wanted to move schools, she ended up staying on at the same school for sixth form. Though this seems like a surprising choice, Maeve was essentially trapped. It was uncertain whether Maeve would receive her GCSEs because of the exam board’s anger. Therefore not many sixth forms would be likely to accept her with no GCSEs and if she moved schools she would probably have to repeat year 10 and 11.

The next two years were effectively torture for Maeve. Her fellow classmates bullied her and started a petition to have her removed from the school. Girls would talk about her in front of her and when she reported this to her head of year, she was told there was nothing they could do. And because of the NDA she signed, she was unable to talk to a therapist about the struggles she was facing.

There’s a part of me that wishes I put it to trial

Whilst all of this was going on Maeve was also dealing with a potential court case. The police told her if she wanted to take her perpetrator to court, then she would have to relocate to the north as this would be where Jack would be trialled. She was told it would be stressful, she would be cross examined and she only had one friend who was willing to support her and testify.

After talking with her parents Maeve decided not to go to court and instead Jack was given eight months of community service. Maeve said at the time she didn’t want to ruin his life, but now looking back part of her wishes she had taken it to trial.

She told The Tab: “In retrospect, there’s a part of me that wishes that I put it to trial, because the way that they dealt with the community service was actually very traumatic for me.”

His community service and rehabilitation involved a requirement that he apologised to her and she hear his apology. However this is not something Maeve was interested in hearing. She turned down numerous requests to speak in person, over the phone and eventually he sent a letter to her house which Maeve has never read.

Maeve felt the system was more focused on rehabilitating Jack than healing her trauma. She received a number of information booklets on dealing with stress and how to sleep. But it wasn’t enough.

Maeve describes that time as the “worst couple of months of my life” and she and her family often joke they are able to easily handle the pandemic situation because nothing will ever be as bad as the summer of 2016.

I think I’m angry at the education system on both parts because it clearly failed him as much as it failed me

Maeve is still feeling the effects of the incident now. She planned her decision about where to go to uni on the basis that she wouldn’t run into anyone from her area. She ended up at a great university in a large city where she allowed herself a reinvention period. Maeve was eventually able to access therapy now she was no longer beholden to the NDA.

Maeve urges any young person who has been a victim of revenge porn to go to the police. She told The Tab: “If you’re in that situation, speak to someone, don’t be like me and be scared because the police are actually really nice and they do understand.”

Reflecting back on the experience, Maeve finds the majority of feelings are that of anger towards the education system for failing both herself and Jack.

She said: “I think I’m angry at the education system on both parts because it clearly failed him as much as it failed me. He’s never been educated well enough to understand that you need to respect women and they’re not property.

“And I was in a position where the people who failed me the most where from my school who were meant to be my caregivers. And they did nothing.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story contact Refuge on their free 24/7 helpline 0808 2000 247 or contact Rape Crisis online for a free confidential chat helpline.

The Tab’s Do Better campaign is putting a focus on the rising student sexual assault problem. Universities need to do more to support students and the culture around sexual assault needs to change.

If you’ve got a story you’d like to share with us – whether it’s about lack of support from uni, problematic sports socials, assault in lockdown or anything you think needs to be heard, get in touch in confidence by emailing [email protected]

*Names changed to protect identities 

Featured image credit: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Read more from The Tab’s Do Better campaign here:

An expert’s guide on how to support a friend who has been sexually assaulted

Sexual assault reports at UK universities have more than doubled in four years

It’s harder than ever to report sexual assault at uni right now