But as I typed the address of the first apartment into my phone, a sexually explicit text message from an unknown phone appeared on the screen. I looked at my boyfriend, and back at my phone. Three more aggressively sexual messages appeared on the screen. Instead, they continued coming from different s from different cities all over the country.
In the following weeks, I received assault threats, pictures of genitalia, and countless degrading messages, all responding to Craigslist sex I never posted. As a woman who writes about disfigurement and medical trauma for a living, I never thought sexual harassment would be a hazard of my profession.
Yet just two weeks after I wrote about equality for individuals with disfigurements in a national paper, the abuse began. It was as though I was being punished, and I had no idea who was trying to take revenge on me or why.
Texts continued pouring in from unknown s. Still, I was harassed by men of all ages, each one detailing the sexual acts they wanted to do to me.
Another man thought I was a sex worker. I deleted his message without responding, but the man continued. The next text came from a man old enough to be my father.
He called me sweetie and sent me selfies and pictures of his dick. He told me I was beautiful, and sent me a screenshot of a picture he had of me. When I asked him how he got it, he responded by asking for naked photos. With no idea how the man had my picture, I started asking everyone who texted me to send links to the they were responding to. Only two men obliged.
The first man apologized profusely and immediately agreed to send the link. The other expressed concern, telling me how awful my situation must feel and encouraged me to contact authorities — before asking me to send him a naked photo as a thank-you.
I felt powerless and exposed. In addition to texts, men called incessantly and sent lewd messages to my Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn s. After continuing my method of asking each responder for links to theand searching Google for my phoneI found more than a dozen personal someone had created, all impersonating me. Even more unsettling was the ad that claimed I wanted to be tied up and repeatedly sexually assaulted.
Each time I reported a post and had it deleted, another one appeared.
I began to fear for my safety every time I went to the grocery store, refueled my car at the gas station, or went hiking. I was 22 years old and fresh out of college. Even though most of my friends moved away months earlier, I stayed. I enrolled in graduate school and got a job at a small world music label in a rural Vermont town.
But I was lonely.
That winter, I met the man who would later assault me. Not really, anyway, but he was funny and interesting. We talked about everything. We talked about nothing.
When he invited me to his place for a movie night with his friends, I hesitated. On the day of the gathering, a storm overtook the city — nothing but fresh white powder for miles. Within minutes, he was parked outside my door. When we got back to his house, the lights were off. Inside, black sheets hung over the walls and windows. Though I knew I should leave, I stifled my urge to run. Instead, I sat at his kitchen table and let him make me a drink — something with whiskey and maple syrup. When I tried to politely call it a night, he blocked the door with his body.
I had no way out and no way home.
Nobody else was coming. That night, the man raped me beneath two rifles hung on his wall in a giant X above his bed. I cried, begging him to stop. Because it was more of an X like a target. X like draw a line through it. X like the shape his hands made when he used them to cover my mouth. When he finished, he pointed to the bathroom and told me to go clean myself up. I cried as I quickly slid my jeans over my bloody thighs.
The man was still naked, passed out on his bed, so I ran for the front door. Snow outside was piled even higher and the frigid temperatures were well into the negatives, but I walked the two miles home anyway, the smell of blood trailing me the entire way. When I mentioned the assault, he asked why I never reported it. Because I thought it was my fault. In the United States, cyber harassment laws vary state by state. Though there are 34 states with laws in place, policies have simply failed to keep up with technological capabilities.
This became evident in early January, when I finally contacted my local police department. I reached out to internet hackers, activists, and other victims. I asked her about her experience and told her about mine. This is why many women are not as successful in their attempts to stop their cyber harassers. As our conversation continued, I told Laws I had begun shutting down my online presence.
I removed my picture and professional information from LinkedIn, and made sure my other social media profiles were set to private. Eighty percent of employers check the internet.
Build it up. Finally, in March, after nearly four months of constantly looking over my shoulder, the harassment stopped — just as abruptly as it had begun. But in May, it started again, when I received another text from an unknown — from a man who got my off Craigslist.
When I did a Google search for theI learned it belonged to a man who had recently been released from prison for sexual assault.
Fear for my safety trumped the advice to build up my online profile and bury the. Though my identity has been concealed, I still shudder every time I think of the fact that someone is out there waiting for me to let my guard down, to post another ad. This essay originally appeared on Narrative.
More stories from Narrative. First Person is Vox's home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelinesand pitch us at firstperson vox. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower through understanding.