How to Regain a Sense of Control When Your Nudes Leak (or Even Before)

How to Regain a Sense of Control When Your Nudes Leak (or Even Before)
Illustration: Vicky Leta

Taking fire nudes is exhilarating, right? Sending them is exciting and hot, as is receiving them. It’s all fun and games…until, sometimes, it’s not.

If you’ve sexted, you know that it comes with highs and lows, especially once you stop talking to the person on the other end of the line. Your exes and former Tinder matches still have those photos, and the knowledge that they’re out there on someone else’s phone and, potentially, game for distribution to people you did not approve, can come with anxiety.

Whether your nudes have been passed around or leaked, or you’re just terrified of it happening, here’s how to regain a sense of control.

Touch base with the person who has them

If it’s safe, reach out to the one-time recipient of those photos and ask them nicely to delete any hot shots they might still have, even years later. Provided your breakup was amicable and they’re not a vengeful live wire prone to acts of cruelty, they’ll probably say that’s it’s no problem. Use your judgement here. If the person is still hurting from being dumped or otherwise showed signs of being revenge-seeking, don’t hit them up and remind them they have potentially embarrassing photos somewhere deep in their inbox.

Going forward, set some ground rules with potential sexting partners, too, so you don’t relive this anxious cycle as much. Obviously, you never expect someone you’re talking to to turn on you, but always be upfront about your expectation that they will delete anything you send. Promise them that you’ll delete whatever you get from them, too — and make sure you follow through.

Try to think practically

Don’t go into a panic spiral about whether or not someone might be passing around images of your private parts without actually knowing that they are. We all have exes. They all have potential kompromat. It is what it is. Your photos are out there, as are everyone else’s. The odds that someone is wantonly hawking them around are actually pretty low, unless they indicated otherwise. Who has the time, really?

There are a few ways you can remind yourself of this improbability, too, and arm yourself with the concrete knowledge of whether your nightmare scenario is coming true. Use a reverse-image lookup site like TinEye to search your own photos and see if they’ve been, say, posted to a message board.

Here’s the truth: It’s going to suck a lot if they have been posted, but it is much better for you to know. Nudes are the great equaliser, anyway; since the advent of digital cameras and smartphones, everyone has them, so this stuff is no longer novel. A leak is definitely less of a professional or social death sentence than it used to be, even though that makes it feel no less damaging. Vanessa Williams being stripped of her Miss America crown over nude images is the past. Jennifer Lawrence refusing to apologise when hers appeared online is the future. It’s better to know if yours are out there, but even if they are, this is not the end of the world. You’re not alone.

Want to ease the anxiety even more? Lock down your social media for a while.

Danielle, a woman from Minnesota, described to Lifehacker how what she called an “emotional affair” with a married man ground to halt after his wife found her nudes in his DMs and threatened him with divorce.

“She viewed my Instagram stories and then tried adding me on her personal page, then her fitness page, and her business page after that,” said Danielle, who has a private account that requires her to approve follow requests. To avoid the understandably-angry spouse finding out her personal information, she said, “I locked down my Instagram, took everything out of my profile, and changed my profile photo to something generic.”

Those actions stopped what Danielle described as “full-on panic” over the idea that her digital lover’s real-life wife might be able to identify and contact her real-life husband. She’s been much calmer and has felt more in-control since she de-personalised her social media. Still, “it took a few weeks” for her nerves to subside, so don’t expect instant results.

Centre yourself

If someone does share your intimate photos, remember that it says a lot more about their character than it does about your body.

Janely Martinez, a Utah resident, went through this a few years ago. After Martinez and a boyfriend of four years decided they didn’t want to get married and broke up, they waited a while to date again. Eventually, they found a new boyfriend and, with him, happiness — but that ex didn’t like it very much. He began sending Martinez their own nudes as a taunt, long after they’d forgotten he even had them.

What’s more, he was sending photos they hadn’t even sent him in the first place. Martinez concluded, but never proved, that he still had their iCloud password and was logging in, stealing more recent nudes that were not intended for him, and holding them over their head.

Anyone would, understandably, begin to lose their mind in this situation. It took Martinez a while to ground themself, but here’s how they did it: “I remember there are so many parts of me that he never knew and will never know. He’s a hurt person who will never get the help he needs. I provided unconditional love to a person who only knew how to destroy and control things and people. Since leaving him, I am happily married, medicated, and in regular therapy. Honestly, ultimately, I’m proud of my body and I’m not responsible for other people’s complicated feelings about me. It’s not my business.”

It will take a while for you to feel like it’s not your business, especially if someone is distributing your photos and making them other people’s business in the process, but remember that you did nothing bad. The distributor is in the wrong, not you.

Know your legal rights, and potentially lawyer up

You might have read this far hoping the fear of distribution is all in your head and it won’t really happen to you. I hope that for you, too.

But if it has happened or does happen, if you find your nudes online or someone alerts you that they’re being passed around, you’re a victim of what’s known as “revenge porn.”

Laws are different in every state, but you’ll be happy to know that there are protections for revenge porn victims out there. Start here: The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative breaks down the laws state by state and then provides resources for how to request the images be removed from various sites, which you have a right to do.

Look up your state’s exact laws, then consider going to the police and filing a report. There are even lawyers who specialise in revenge porn. Google which ones are near you.

“An experienced lawyer can help with getting a restraining or protective order through family court, and intervening with a school and/or employer if online content impacts the schooling, employment, or employability of the victim,” said Carrie Goldberg, founder of C.A. Goldberg, PLLC victims’ rights law firm. “We can help advocate for you with law enforcers when a crime involves harassment, underage material, unlawful surveillance, extortion, or violation of any other law. And we can bring lawsuits against the perpetrator.”

She went on, “There are legal tools like Cease and Desist letters, removal of content pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), motions against online service providers to de-anonymize user’s identities, and subpoenas to confirm a suspect’s identity via social media sites, website hosts and/or IP addresses.”

In short: You have legal options.

This how-to is about regaining a sense of control, though, whether it’s over anxiety and catastrophising, or a real-deal distribution of your private images. You’re in charge. You can do whatever you want. No one is making you go to the police or do anything else you don’t want to do, but it’s imperative you know you have that choice.

“I really didn’t realise I could do anything about it all those years ago,” said Martinez. Still, they didn’t report it, even now, and feel at peace with that decision. If you think rehashing the details to a cop or lawyer will only hurt you more, only you need to understand your motivations.

Do whatever works for you, but remember you did nothing wrong and whatever choice you make is the right one.

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