WORDS: JESSICA PALOMO | ART: FAYE ORLOVE

In a recent interview with Good Morning America, Blac Chyna sat across from interviewer Linsey Davis to address ex-fiance Rob Kardashian’s July 5th tirade of social media posts, during which several of her nude photos were leaked.

While Chyna showed strength throughout the interview, Davis’ questions echoed accusations which are all too familiar for victims of revenge porn. For those victims—many of whom do not seek help for fear of backlash—the interview serves as a reminder that ahead of any sort of empathy, they will first be met with shame, often one of the most overlooked causes of depression.

There’s an old saying about shame: it’s the lie someone told you about yourself. Critics of Blac Chyna have shown exactly that—projections of a culture that still links virginity to purity, faults women for the crimes of men, and for whom the idea of consent is still up for debate. At the root, suggestions that Chyna was deserving of the leaks sends a clear message to victims: revenge porn is proper punishment, to be taken as a lesson during which you will be shamed and taught that your actions—whatever they may have been were the true crime. So while Rob’s supporters create memes and tweets are sent about Chyna’s supposed infidelity, the layer of stigma is thickening for the one in 25 Americans for whom revenge porn has become a personal nightmare.

Non-consensual sharing is vulnerability at its most extreme, leaving victims exposed to the opinions of their immediate social circles.

Often posted alongside personally-identifying information, images of victims are not always posted by a scorned ex. Revenge porn—also known as non-consensual image sharing—can be brought on by anyone wishing to humiliate or cause serious reputational damage to the victim. It can be used as a threat over a long period of time, causing the victim to fear for his or her safety and feel as though he or she has no one to turn to thanks to the sensitive nature of the material. Threats that turn into actions can not only lead to additional harassment, but victims can still be subject to shaming: recall the statement put out by a Disney spokesperson in 2007, citing a “lapse in judgement” and hope that she “learned a valuable lesson” when High School Musical Star Vanessa Hudgens was the victim of a nude photo leak.

How can we help those overcome the paralysis of shame? 

Non-consensual sharing is vulnerability at its most extreme, leaving victims exposed to the opinions of their immediate social circles. This can mean family, friends, and even co-workers. More often than not, those opinions mirror the reactions we’ve seen over the past week where victim-blaming is at the forefront, triggering a sense of shame that consumes. If you can recall a time when you felt ashamed, you might even remember it’s physical effects, like the desire to sink into the ground. At its worst, toxic shame goes beyond the physical or simply thinking you did something bad—it’s believing you are something bad. For folks with a history of anxiety, this can be especially debilitating. Lack of self-esteem, loss of appetite, and depression can become long-lasting, especially in an age where deleting unwanted pictures or videos from the internet can be nearly impossible to erase completely. And when it comes to confronting the situation, victims are forced to address perpetrators without a safe space, leaving them exposed to feelings of worthlessness and constant fear of safety. Even as victims try to move on, the deep sense of shame that they faced can manifest itself through refusal to accept any form of positive regard from others. It becomes an entire shift in sense of self.

How can we help those overcome the paralysis of shame? We can start by taking revenge porn seriously. Refusing to co-sign for Rob Kardashian is a direct refusal to tolerate the actions of those who see revenge porn as rightful punishment and creates a safe space for victims. At its core, it demonstrates that we are capable of empathy. Bigger than celebrity scandal, it’s an opportunity to protect victims and rethink the ways in which we can grow in human compassion—the most basic tool we’ll need if we’re to shift the way we view and treat mental health.

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