I’ve written a review of Lauren’s autobiography previously and followed her on social media for years. If you’re not familiar she is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, who wrote a book, started a non-profit, and is now a State Senator in Florida.
Naturally, when I saw her name pop up in the news again this week, it caught my attention. Sadly, this time her efforts to introduce legislation involving stolen and/or doctored images came with her own personal story again.
Now after years of working hard to heal herself and restore her life — running a non-profit to help victims, getting married, having children and winning her Senate seat — Book has been victimized again, this time by someone trying to extort her by threatening to reveal nude photos that were stolen from her.
Often when we talk about retraumatizing survivors it’s much more subtle than this. Though, even in this situation, I think there are things many of us do that are subtle traumas. Nevertheless what we do know is this.
Lauren made the choice to be a public figure in the fight against child abuse, going as far as running for office in order to be part of the solution. In response to her public profile, she was targeted by hackers who managed to get into the photos she had on her phone at one time and then threatened with having embarrassing photos of her released to the public.
Sadly, she isn’t the only woman to have this happen, in fact, in response to her bill, there have been stories of another legislator who found out that someone was using her Instagram photos to make fake nude images and videos. Apparently, there are those who find that any woman in the public sphere is simply fair game for this sort of thing. This is wrong, and must not be tolerated. This is pure sexism, an attempt to keep women quiet through intimidation tactics.
As you might imagine these sorts of activities are severely traumatizing, and Lauren’s response in the article I linked makes that clear. I also want to address the more subtle trauma here though. That trauma comes from those of you who will read this story and immediately respond “well she shouldn’t have been taking those photos”.
I want to be very clear here. That statement is 100% blaming the victim. This is the same exact thing as saying a woman shouldn’t have walked alone at night, or had a drink, or a child shouldn’t have been so friendly with strangers, etc. Lauren didn’t do anything wrong. What she and her husband do inside of their marriage is none of our business, no laws were broken, nothing untoward was going on. She was just a wife living her life and she was hacked. The person who stole these photos was the one breaking the law. The people sharing and selling those photos were breaking the law. Save your moral outrage for them and the people requesting to have these photos used to create fake rape videos because she was a rape victim.
Anyone who can read the entire story and walk away indignant more at her for having taken photos that were perfectly legal and a personal choice instead of the people who have violated her are simply violating her again. They are adding yet another trauma, the trauma of being blamed for your own victimhood, and of having your own trauma dismissed. We shouldn’t be doing that to any survivor. Just because Lauren is a public figure doesn’t give us a license to add to her trauma that way. You wouldn’t do it to women in your own life, don’t do it to her.
I also want to address the men in my audience. because we don’t often hear a lot about what we can do to help women. When stories like this come out, or stories about women being sexually assaulted we will hear a lot about how women can make themselves safer. Mostly by not doing things that any human being should be able to take for granted. I have had the opportunity to watch and learn from a variety of women in my life personally and professionally, and one thing those interactions have taught me is just how often things that I take for granted are not something they can. Whether it be spending an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to look good, but not “too good” in a professional setting, dealing with unwanted stares and attention, or simply arriving in a new town and going for a walk late in the evening without giving it a second thought I need mot to forget that we live in a society that tells half of its members not to do those things instead of telling the other half to let them do that safely. We have a responsibility to do better, to correct the men around us who find this situation funny, or who make jokes about rape victims or sexual remarks about women in public life they disagree with.
It’s not funny. It’s harmful, and we should not stand for it even when we are alone with “the guys”. This culture cannot be allowed room to breathe in our circles if we are to ever reach a point where the women we love are safe from it. That is on us, even if it means we need to cut people out of our lives too.
Lastly, though she may never read it, I want to close with this message to Lauren, and to other women in her shoes. I know this hurts, and I know this must be incredibly painful to go through especially when it is tied to your status as a survivor and your work with survivors. You did nothing wrong. Someone else made the decision to steal from you and to share, sell and trade in the ill-gotten gains of that theft. They are solely to blame for this situation and I am so, so glad to see you fighting back in the ways that you can, in the Florida Senate instead of allowing those people to shut you up. No matter what happens from here and how many people continue to heap blame at you for something that you have no fault in, remember that there are also a lot of us who see this for what it is and encourage you to keep sharing your story and the work that you do. We need more voices, not fewer. I am rooting for you, and all survivors who sadly have people in their lives trying to quiet those voices, to find a way to continue speaking, to find the people who will support you and encourage you to speak. Those are the people that matter. They are the ones who get why we need to speak out and tell our stories, and they are the ones who will help us continue to reach children who need to hear you. Know that we are out here, and support you.