Like a lot of people, I try to block out memories of the time of my life I spent in high school. But reading about Amanda Todd, the teenage girl who committed suicide after being bullied over a topless picture, has brought back some painful ones. Because what happened to Amanda Todd almost happened to me.
When I was in high school, a live-streaming site called Stickam became popular. I used it to talk to friends, but also to garner attention from guys. I'd "borrow" my mother's laptop, open up the webcam, and wait for boys to virtually hang out with me. (I didn't drink. I didn't do drugs. Instead, I constantly sought validation from boys.)
I eventually met a guy named David*. He was 22 and attending college about two hours away from me; I was 16 and a junior in high school. He'd compliment me in ways I hadn't really heard before. I felt special.
Our conversations quickly became sexual. Eventually, I started getting naked for him online, but not before I started dating my best friend, Brad*, who just moved back from abroad. I really liked him — I was drawn to his intelligence — and thought that what I had going with David was just harmless fun.
David made me feel wanted in a way Brad didn't. David and I would video chat online a few nights a week. He taught me how to masturbate, and asked me to do it in front of him. Not once did I think about our age difference. I was led to believe he cared about me in a way that was not only sexual. He knew about my school, my family and even my boyfriend.
But then David began to call me every day, insisting we meet in person, and saying he wanted to be the one who took my virginity. The fact I was dating someone else started to make him angry. I realized I knew very little about him. This new side frightened me, and I knew I had to get out.
After two weeks of this, I told David we needed to stop talking. He then told me he'd recorded everything I'd done on camera and planned on releasing it if I didn't have sex with him. Having already been on antidepressants since I was 11 years old, I fell into an even deeper tailspin. I was terrified for any of my friends or classmates in the Bible Belt to find out. I skipped school for two weeks, faking sickness and having a constant string of panic attacks. My grades suffered, as did my relationship with my family.
I finally decided I had to tell my parents. My mom was extremely upset with me, but she quickly took action to make sure he couldn't contact me again. I told my boyfriend. We were reading "The Scarlet Letter" in our AP Language class; he likened it to that and decided we had to end things. I drew a large letter A on my stomach every day for the next month. I was ashamed I got myself into this situation. I considered myself a smart girl, but this shattered any sense of self-worth I had.
A month later, Brad started dating a good friend of mine. He told her what had happened between us, and she went on to tell others. Sides were chosen and I lost the majority of my friends. One said he wanted to "drop me on a bed of nails and watch me die." Without the support of my friends, I felt more alone than ever.
And I still received random AIM or MySpace messages from anonymous people saying they had footage of me naked, too. They would supply links to my friends' pages proving they knew my identity and screen caps proving they had footage. As much as a year later, I would get these messages and be forced to get naked for a new anonymous bully.
I never found out how these bullies had acquired the footage, but I wouldn't doubt that David had something to do with it. For a few months after, I searched on forums like 4chan for my video. There were many sites and forums strictly dedicated to filming underage girls on webcam. People would share their "stashes" here to gain respect. The words "slut" and "whore" were used frequently to describe the girls getting naked. When a girl believed she was in a "private" session on Stickam, it was fairly simply for a hacker to sneak in without notice.
I had been suicidal in the past, and this just brought me back to a place I had been before. I would lie in my bed, blast Death Cab For Cutie and take a more than healthy dose of NyQuil. I wanted a way to escape, but I was still afraid of alcohol and recreational drugs.
My parents said they weren't upset with me, but I could still grasp their feeling of disappointment. I lived in a constant state of shame. I felt like I didn't deserve to live. There were many times when I thought of suicide, but I never took that final step.
It wasn't until Amanda Todd's story was released that I realized how messed up the entire situation was. I've spent the past five years completely blaming myself, but I was manipulated into a lot of sexual situations. Overall, I do take responsibility for what happened, but I realize I'm not the only one to blame.
I'm 21 now. I haven't heard anything from David in years (and the threats started going away once Facebook became popular, but I still fear that those pictures will leak). But what happened still haunts me. In high school, I discovered my love for comedy, music, and theater. When my pictures were released, I decided a career as a musician or actress were completely out of the question. A job in the public eye could be ruined over a mistake I made at a young age.
This eventually dictated what college I attended and what major I chose. I greatly regret that decision after leaving college at the end of my freshman year because of severe depression.
I still feel like the only validation I can get is from male attention, but I'm slowly growing. I have friends that love me and know that I'm worth more than just my body.
Overcoming this made me realize that things really do get better. I wish Amanda Todd were still alive to learn the same thing.
This article originally appeared on xoJane. Republished with permission.
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