Revenge Porn victim reveals she's still struggling six years on: 'I just wanted someone to love me'

Revenge Porn victim reveals she's still struggling six years on: 'I just wanted someone to love me'

Rose* didn't know what revenge porn was, or that she'd been a victim of it. That was until she watched Zara McDermott's documentary about her experience of intimate image abuse, which McDermott says still "affects [her] to this day".

"The fact that someone of such a high profile has spoken out about it makes me feel less ashamed," Rose tells Four Nine. "Now, I know that other people have been through the same thing."

The BBC Three documentary sees the former Love Island contestant speak candidly about the traumatic effects of revenge porn – when explicit images are shared maliciously without the person's consent.

Revenge Porn Zara McDermott has been campaigning with domestic violence charity Refuge (Credit: PA)

Rose's experience of revenge porn

Rose was thirteen, and struggling with depression, anxiety and self-harm, when she was approached by one of the "nicer" boys to send a nude photo.

"I'd never seen pictures like that before, and I was so young so I just thought they were funny," she explains. The teenagers agreed to not screenshot the images, or to share them with anyone. But, several weeks later, Rose got wind that the picture was circulating amongst her year group at school. The individual in question had taken a picture of the screen from his iPad and shared it with his friends.

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"I got bullied from then on," she recalls. "I was only just going through puberty and you look very different at that point. People called me 'lemon tits' and other horrible things for years and years afterwards."

While Rose's school did acknowledge the fact that she was a victim, "nothing really happened". The boy in question was put into isolation for a day, but the impact it had on him was nowhere near as long-lasting.

"I'd received a picture from him but nobody seemed to care," Rose continues. "He wasn't slut-shamed. Boys did have their nudes leaked at my school but it didn't get the same reaction from people.

"It affected all the relationships I started with girls and guys in the school because I was constantly being called names like 'slag' and stuff - all the way from year eight till eleven. It got better, but I always knew that most of the people I was acquainted with had seen me naked. I still think about it now."

Revenge Porn Irish artist Emmalene Blake seen working on her latest mural related to the legislation outlawing revenge porn (Credit: PA)

The prevalence of intimate image abuse

Rose, who is now 19, experienced the same thing a second time while in secondary school. A boy that she'd liked since primary school convinced her to send him an intimate image, and she trusted him, because she'd "known him for [her] entire life".

She quickly started receiving messages about it from people who went to three different schools and colleges in the surrounding area. This time around, she didn't tell anyone.

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"I wanted so desperately to impress these guys. But after the pictures started going around again, it seemed like they all thought so little of me. It made me not want to go into school," she says. "The first time around, my parents were supportive because I was a victim, but there was a lot of blame on the fact that I shouldn't have sent the pictures at that age. They've never wanted to shame me, but they thought I'd been smart enough not to do something like that.

"I didn't do it because I was stupid. I did it because I just really wanted someone to love me."

Zara McDermott Zara McDermott pictured with some of her former Love Island alums (Credit: PA)

The long-lasting effects of revenge porn

Rose tells me that she didn't begin having sexual relations for a long time after what transpired in secondary school. And when she did, she initially refused to take off her clothing.

"I didn't want anyone to see me," she continues. " I've always been self-conscious of the way my stomach, or boobs look. When my friends are like 'you look really nice', I'm always looking at myself, like 'do I?' I can't help but wonder what other people would say about the way I look - because I've been told the opposite."

Now, six years on, Rose says she'll "never forget" what happened. She echoes the long-lasting effects that McDermott speaks of in her BBC Three documentary.

Sharing her story, the former Love Islander says in the film: "I may seem comfortable in the public eye, but actually, every time I walk into a room and meet someone new, I wonder, have they seen my images?"

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Zara's story

The morning after McDermott left the Love Island villa in 2018, a publicist came to her hotel room to break the news that nude images of her had been circulating in several Whatsapp groups, without her knowledge. The story had also been reported in the press.

"I can’t even tell you the feeling, feeling like your parents are ashamed of you," McDermott says tearfully in the documentary. "It was so embarrassing. I just wanted to die." The images were shared by someone she claims she was seeing before her stint on Love Island, whom she wholly "trusted".

Hearing McDermott speaks about her shame and anger - and the impact it had on her friends and family - is heartbreaking. But it really hits home when it's revealed that this was not the only time she'd been a victim of revenge porn.

The first occurred when she was a bullied 14-year-old schoolgirl. "I did it order to try and make myself more popular, but it had the complete opposite effect," she explains.

McDermott's story closely mirrors that of Rose, who says having her intimate images leaked made secondary school "the worst five years" of her life.

According to statistics, women are disproportionately affected by revenge porn, according to recent statistics.

Research conducted by the Revenge Porn Hotline and Professionals Online Safety Helpline and the University of Exeter in 2019 revealed the extent of the gender disparity between victims of intimate image abuse. Not only are 73 per cent of callers to the Revenge Porn Helpline female, but almost three in four victims are women.

If you are a victim of intimate image abuse please contact the Revenge Porn Hotline, here. They can be reached by email at [email protected] If you are in immediate danger, please call 999. 

*Rose's name has been changed to protect her privacy.