If 35-year-old Terry Wanja could go back to the day she met her ex-husband Kush 11 years ago, she would wake up in the morning, have breakfast, and then go back to bed.
“He is the absolute worst thing that has ever happened to me,” she says.
She hasn’t always felt this way. When she first met him, she felt lucky. You see, he was a manager in the office where she worked at the front desk and until the day he began chasing her, he had seemed out of reach. It’s true what they say about women seeming more attractive when desired by other men because as soon as Kush had set his sights on Terry, every other middle-aged man in the vicinity started clamoring for her heart. Kush with his charm and the solid plan he seemed to have for her and their life together, won this race.
“I will be lying if I say I didn’t see the signs of cheating. From
when we were dating, there were little signs like passwords on his phone, pieces of jewelry around his house, and shoes and lipsticks in his car. When I asked, he would have an explanation for everything,” she says.
There were signs even when they got married but because he was so good to her and was such an involved father to their two children right from birth, she told herself that it was just a phase and she could live with it. This was until she caught him having sex with the house girl in the middle of the day while their two-year-old son napped in the next room.
“That was it for me. Emotionally, I left him that day,” she says.
She had just started working at a new job after three years without one so she needed some time to put together some money to move out of their home. This took her six months during which they lived like strangers. Trouble started when she finally moved to another estate across town and took their children with her.
“When he came home that evening and found that we weren’t there, he called me and told me to bring his children back or the whole world would see my nakedness. I knew what he meant by his threat but I had never imagined that he would dare follow through with it,” she says.
Using Your Shame Against You
Throughout their relationship, Kush liked to take naked pictures of her in various states of undress. She was self-conscious and unsure in the beginning but he would tell her how beautiful she was until she got comfortable in her skin. What she didn’t know was that he was saving every video and image and they would become his weapon of choice in their child custody battle.
“He got a different account and leaked tens of naked photographs of me to our family groups and social media. Then he ran to the children’s office and told them that I was not a good parent. He lied that I had been sleeping around with different men and sending them naked photographs of myself and exposing our children to pornography,” she recalls.
Because he had the ‘evidence’ the children’s office believed him. This report saw them in court for a suit she was unprepared for, a suit she couldn’t afford, and which ended in her losing custody of her children. For a year now, she only sees her children on the weekends as she works on putting aside money to hire another lawyer so she can appeal the ruling.
“Over two years after they were leaked, I still stumble on those photographs on social media. I can’t undo the damage. I have only one piece of advice, don’t let anyone take naked pictures of you. It might cost you too much,” she says.
Why didn’t she just sue him for leaking her photographs and for cyberbullying? One might wonder.
Revenge porn is a lot more complicated than that. Ten or fifteen years ago, if you dumped an emotionally immature man or one with poor anger management skills, he was likely to beat you to a pulp to teach you a lesson, or to throw acid in your face so that no one else would want you.
Now, with the internet at our fingertips, scorned lovers have found an easier way to get back at their targets – shame. As soon as they are old enough to walk, little African girls are taught that their naked bodies are something they should be ashamed of. Something that is flawed and dirty and is to be covered up until she meets the man who will claim her and settle for her imperfections. You will hear a young woman being told to keep her ‘gates to hell’ covered up meaning to keep her legs closed.
A man’s naked body is seen as powerful at best and vulnerable at worst, never shameful. With such feelings of shame attached to her naked body, revenge porn becomes such an effective revenge tool against the woman. If her naked body is a moral crime, the first thing a woman will be asked when her nudes are leaked is why she let someone take naked pictures of her. Once again, the finger is pointed at her. Very much like what happens when a woman is raped.
“Wait, wait. Why did you let him take pictures of you? When will people learn?” She will hear.
It’s no wonder the first instinct of a victim of revenge porn is not to go to the police but to wipe her tears and try and bury it at the back of her mind.
Is Suing Worth It?
“When it happened to me, I went to the police and after them quarreling me and trying to blame me, they told me to document it and then pursue legal action,” says a 31-year-old woman who for the purpose of this article, we will only refer to as Njambi.
Njambi says that being told to document a revenge porn attack and then seek legal redress afterward is good advice. When it comes to the actual situation on the ground, however, the cons might outweigh the pros.
Her revenge porn attack which she refers to as a blot on her reputation happened after a whirlwind office romance she had with a man at her last job. As whirlwind romances are, it was hot and fast-paced until she found out that he’d had an introduction ceremony to marry another woman and all hell broke loose.
“We’d had sex in the office after hours which I now know was a terrible idea. He’d also taken a video with his phone without my knowledge,’ she says.
When they fought, perhaps afraid that she would contact his wife-to-be, her lover retorted by sharing these videos in a work WhatsApp group.
“I quit work the next day,” she says.
Njambi is a marketing executive and this video spiraled into other work circles. It has been three years of slut-shaming, lost opportunities, and failed attempts at damage control.
“Asking me to go through a legal suit would be like asking me to go through all this again. I just let go and let God,” she says.
The Love Con
Just last week, the internet was awash with leaked intimate videos of socialite Aeedah Bambi in a love triangle. In the recent past, there have been other such photographs and videos of popular women like Verah Sidika and Ugandan socialite Zari Hassan.
Seeing this, the Kenyan woman is more cautious about sending photographs of themselves in the nude. What about men who are quick to send photographs of their penis? Are they any safer to be with?
According to a nasty experience that 29-year-old Anyango had recently, apparently not.
“He was a mwizi wa mapenzi. He found me at a time when I was lonely, we met online and he seemed very forward. It was after Covid so we couldn’t meet as soon or as often as we wanted,’ she recalls.
With the romance burning fast, Anyango and ‘her man’ took to phone sex. He would send her random pictures of his privates at random hours and she loved it. So she reciprocated. They met a few times but most of the sex was on video. Both of them kept recordings of it. Then, one day, he just turned on her and began demanding ksh 50,000 or he would leak the photographs.
“I called his bluff at first, reminding him that I also had videos of him. He laughed and told me to leak them and see whether people would care. I knew he was right so I paid him. Now there is this thing hanging over my head and don’t know when he will come back and ask for more money,” she says.
The take-home from her experience seems to be that a woman should be cautious of the man who doesn’t respect his privacy. If he doesn’t care that people will see his naked body, how much less will he care that they see yours?
What Can A Woman Do?
I’m all for women and men having the freedom of choice in matters of sexuality. If a person wants to take naked pictures of themselves, then they should. But value your boundaries and your privacy. Taking and sharing intimate images and videos is a personal choice but always have it at the back of your mind that in the wrong hands, personal data can be used as power over you or, it could cost you a job and your reputation.
For a woman who finds herself on the receiving end of revenge porn, you can document it and pursue legal action. There is also the option of asking that the photos be pulled down by whatever site they were posted on but this might or might not work seeing as once an image is posted, there could be tens of people with downloads and screenshots of it within minutes. Once it’s posted, even the poster loses control of it.
The most powerful weapon a woman can have against this form of attack, however, is a changed mindset. If you find yourself on the receiving end of it, do not even for a second begin that you are to blame. You may have created the said content and shared it with a person you trusted but you still deserve to be treated with respect.
If all else fails, you can use that age-old trick. If he wants to go sharing intimate photographs of you and stories about your sex life, own it. Say that it happened and that he sucked at it.
Read: The Rise Of Pop Up Brothels In Nairobi
Read: The Rise Of Pop Up Brothels In Nairobi