It’s rare for me to talk about my experience with image-based abuse. Identifying as a male victim can make for awkward exchanges, like the time I disclosed it to a confused mate who couldn’t quite fathom how a “strong guy” like me could have been abused in any form.
The most recent findings by the eSafety commissioner upend the common misconception that a Y chromosome and a pair of large biceps can shield you from relationship retaliation.
The fact that men are now overrepresented in reports of image-based abuse was so striking to me that I felt compelled to tell my story in the hope of helping other men who may be suffering the life-changing effects of this insidious crime.
While same-sex attracted men like myself are disproportionally affected, this issue affects people of all identities. My perpetrator didn’t abuse me because he was gay, he did it because he’s a bad person and, unlike most victims of these crimes, he did it to me while we were still together.
Even though I was suspicious about his behaviour during our relationship, I was scared to confront him. I finally ended the relationship, and his response was swift and ugly.
Just when I thought the worst was over, a mate told me they had seen something concerning online. What could it be? I had never sent nudes or anything like that to anyone.
What I came to discover unleashed a rage within me that, three years later, still fuels me.
Scrolling through the website my friend showed me, I didn’t recognise myself at first as I had never made a sex video. But shockingly, the more I scrolled the more I found. Hidden camera footage of me having sex, pictures of me sleeping naked.
Some of my videos were dark and grainy so he posted an image of my face alongside the video to ensure I could be identified.
I couldn’t believe my eyes and as they welled up with tears, I screamed and cried and even punched myself in the head over and over again. Instinctively I blamed myself for being so stupid.
In those private moments where I should’ve felt the safest, I was being turned into an unwilling performer. And in the ultimate betrayal, my loving partner was selling the “porn” in which I was the oblivious star. I went straight to the police.
Giving a statement was a real eye opener. The police immediately identified what I hadn’t: that I was in a controlling relationship and that what I had been through pretty much followed the gaslighting playbook.
From there, things escalated.
The police applied for an AVO, issued a warrant for his arrest and, concerned for my safety, told me to move home and avoid places where he may be.
He was eventually arrested by federal police on a flight and denied bail. He was described as a “serious risk to the community” by a magistrate. Naively, I’d thought police would just tell him to take the images down and that would be the end of it, but it was just the beginning.
Even though he was eventually convicted and deported, he pleaded not guilty and dragged me through a year-long court process.
My day job was as a paramedic, which had already been intensified by the early days of the pandemic. Then, on my off days, I’d be in court, discussing intimate details of my sex life before my perpetrator, my family, friends and the media.
My health suffered, as did my finances and inevitably my personal life started unravelling too. I was an intensely private person, who already struggled with my sexual identity. I carried on pretending everything was normal while silently self-destructing.
In other words, I was being a typical bloke.
I had to get used to being called a victim and adjust to the reality that my body had been sold and no longer felt like mine. I had to confront issues that I had believed predominantly affected women – which only made me withdraw into myself further.
I still haven’t regained clarity from the blur of the past few years and while I don’t regret reporting the crime, the legal process almost broke me.
To any guy out there who finds themselves a victim of image abuse, my advice would be to gather all the evidence and immediately report it to the eSafety commissioner. Having my content removed allowed me to start putting my life back together.
My other piece of advice would be to not feel ashamed. While I still struggle to talk about my ordeal and continue to downplay what happened to me, I’ve realised there is no shame in being a victim. And I’ve realised there’s no more impressive man than one who has the strength to embrace their vulnerability.
The author wishes to remain anonymous
To report online abuse go to www.esafety.gov.au/report