real life

Sophie's boyfriend shared her nudes when she was just a teen. Years later, her husband did it too.

SBS The Hunting
Thanks to our brand partner, SBS The Hunting

Sophie* was 17 the first time she fell in love.

Their budding teenage romance was punctuated with all the usual trappings of modern love – furtive text messages, long late night phone calls, and the occasional nude pic.

When Sophie’s boyfriend first asked her whether he could take nude photos of her, she was stoked.

It made her feel wanted and beautiful. She thought it was for his eyes only.

“It’s liberating. It’s almost empowering to think that someone finds you attractive and thinks you’re beautiful and wants those pictures of you,” she told Mamamia.

At 19, Sophie broke up with her boyfriend. After they split, a mutual friend confided in Sophie. He told her that her ex-boyfriend had actually been sharing the images with his friends while they were still together.

You couldn’t send images on mobile phones at the time, so his friends would gather around his phone and take photos of the images on their own phones.

Then their friends would do the same.

Everyone knew about it.

Everyone knew what Sophie looked like naked.

Everyone except Sophie.

“That was devastating to me. I’ve been with this person, I’ve trusted this person, I’ve loved this person. I thought that was private and now I find out that all his friends know exactly what I look like naked,” she said.

For Sophie, her friends’ betrayal was almost worse than what her ex-boyfriend did. She felt like everyone was laughing behind her back. That no one was who she thought they were.

“It was really humiliating. These were people that we socialised with who had never said anything to me. Suddenly I felt like, I can’t explain it, violated. Just violated,” she said.

“These people were being a friend to my face but they’d actually seen these pictures of me. That was mortifying.”

After a few months, Sophie distanced herself from those friends. She couldn’t trust them anymore. She couldn’t look them in the eye without thinking about what they’d done.

“I thought that they were just my friends because they thought they were going to get something from me,” she said. “Like I was free game, I suppose.”

revenge porn victims
"I've been with this person, I've trusted this person, I've loved this person. I thought that was private." Image: Getty.
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While Sophie's story is harrowing, it's far from unusual.

In 2017, The Office of the eSafety Commissioner conducted a study into young people and sexting. They found that nearly one in three 14 to 17 year olds had had some experience with sexting in the previous 12 months.

The study also found that 15 per cent of 15 to 17-year-old girls had experienced intimate, nude or sexual images of themselves being distributed without their consent.

That's a lot of young girls going through what Sophie went through - and that's only a survey sample.

When Sophie confronted her ex-boyfriend, he wouldn't listen to her. He told her the photos were on his phone and therefore he owned them. He told her she couldn't do anything about it.

At 19, she felt powerless. She felt she had no choice but to let it go.

"I felt really alone. I didn't want to tell people. I didn't want to tell my mum. I didn't want to tell my other friends. I was ashamed and really embarrassed," she said.

For the next few years, Sophie held back in relationships. She couldn't trust her partners. She didn't know what they were capable of.

"I was very cautious, very guarded, held back," she said. "It actually damaged my future relationships because those partners felt like I had tarnished them with the same brush."

At 24, Sophie met her future husband.

They built a life and family together over the course of nine and a half years. Being in a long-term, secure relationship, Sophie finally felt safe again.

Her husband was a fly-in/fly-out worker, and to keep the spark alive while he was working away for weeks at a time, they would send nudes to each other.

In January this year, Sophie and her husband separated. Shortly after, she received a phone call from her brother.

"He said 'I've just popped on Facebook and I've seen photos of your boobs'," she recalled.

Sophie then discovered her ex-husband had posted nude photos of her on his personal Facebook page. He had also posted them on several online forums.

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When she confronted him, Sophie's ex-husband gave her a similar response to what her ex-boyfriend told her years earlier. They were his pictures. There was nothing she could do about it.

What's most unsettling about Sophie's story is her partners' sense of entitlement. They believed just because they were given access to the images, that they're allowed to share them with whomever they want.

They do this without a second thought, and they're no longer around to see the massive impact this has on Sophie's life, who once trusted them.

Sophie eventually managed to convince her ex to remove the photos after a bit of back and forth, but the damage was already done.

Once again, Sophie was left violated and vulnerable.

She says people in her life didn't understand why she had sent the photos in the first place and she had to explain to them that it's not shameful.

"I think it's a generational thing - they ask why would you even take videos of yourself, or photos of yourself, and why did you send them?" she explained.

"It's the society we live in. It's almost an expectation in relationships."

It's not just adults who are navigating the muddy waters of intimacy in the age of technology - it's teenagers as well.

While it's hard to prepare any adult or teenager before an incident takes place, it is helpful to know stories like Sophie's, just to be aware.

Sophie has now moved on with her life, but she knows she'll never really be free of those photos.

"It's ongoing. It still affects me to this day," she said. "I have terrible anxiety when I'm in a relationship and it gets to that point of sexting or when they ask for a naked picture and you're like 'How do I get out of this? How do I make it feel like I'm not a prude?'"

Despite what she's been through, Sophie understands that she's not to blame here. She says she will still send nudes to future partners but she'll be careful to set the ground rules first.

"My new partner asked me if I would do it again. And I said absolutely," Sophie shares.

"But obviously there would be a discussion beforehand about what's appropriate and what's not appropriate and my expectations along those lines."

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

Have you had a story like Sophie's? Or are you a parent of teenagers who've been through something similar?

SBS has launched an online educational toolkit to help parents talk to their kids about issues around sex and cyber-safety, in conjunction with their groundbreaking new four-part series The Hunting. For more information, visit www.sbs.com.au/learn/the-hunting.

SBS The Hunting

Asher Keddie and Richard Roxburgh explore sex, trust and consent in new Australian drama The Hunting, from August 1st on SBS and SBS On Demand. Watch the trailer here.

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