Annmarie Chiarini Headshot

I'm a Revenge-Porn Victim Turned Activist

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I'm just a bill

Yes, I'm only a bill.

And I'm sittin' here on Capital Hill...

I never paid attention to local politics -- or national politics for that matter. I knew the basics: The president, which countries we were mad at, which were mad at us, the price of gas, and when to file my taxes. It was enough. I was content.

Then an ex-boyfriend posted nude pictures of me on the Internet without my consent. Certain he had committed a crime, I went straight to the police. But the law enforcement officials I turned to for help only smirked, shrugged their shoulders, and sent me on my way. Except for one State Trooper who sadly explained the ways in which the Maryland laws prevented him from doing his job, and thus prevented him from helping me.

"Then, I'll change the laws." I said.

"Annmarie," He replied, "If you do that, it'll make my job a lot easier."

And so it began, my foray into politics, legislation, bill drafting and testifying.

But first, a visit to YouTube was in order. All those years of not paying attention had left a rather large hole in my knowledge base. I couldn't remember the legislative steps. I didn't know where to start. I couldn't remember the differences between House and Senate, legislature and congress. So I turned to the one resource that would set me on my path: School House Rock.

Rosa Parks spent years readying herself for the groundbreaking civil action she performed that forever changed a turbulent moment in history. She aligned herself with the NAACP, received training in activism in worker's rights and racial equality, and launched what was called the strongest campaign for equal justice seen in a decade. I readied myself by watching a cartoon from the 1970's.

Once I finished my refresher, I began what I considered the most difficult part of the process. I reached out to legislators with my story.

I could barely talk about what happened with my friends and family without cringing with the shame that accompanies a crime of a sexual nature. In order to see the laws changed, I shared my story with strangers who may or may not care about my suffering. I made myself vulnerable. Since crimes of a sexual nature bring about very mixed reactions, I wanted the legislators to regard the photos as a piece of trust and intimacy that was used in a way completely opposite of its intended use: to hurt, to terrorize, to induce powerlessness, to destroy.

My pictures were posted in 2010. At that time, the term "Revenge Porn" hadn't yet been coined. Internet searches about nude pictures being posted returned results about online stalking and harassment. I opened the e-mails I would send to lawmakers with the sentence, "I am a victim of cyber harassment and stalking." Then I briefly explained what happened avoiding that the harassment included nude pictures being posted. I was still feeling shame and couldn't bring myself to reveal the true nature of the crime.

Within a week of sending my first email, I had a meeting with U.S. Senator Mikulski's legislative aid. I discussed what happened and the need for legislation. I presented examples of statutes and lots of statistics. I learned a lot and walked away feeling ready to approach senators in Maryland.

A few weeks later Senator Brochin called in response to the email I sent him. He invited me to help draft a bill to strengthen Maryland's online stalking and harassment laws and asked me if I would testify in support of the bill.

On February 2, 2011, I testified before the Maryland General Assembly's judicial committee in support of Senate bills 175 and 107. Senate bill 175 was passed into law on April 10th and went into effect on October 1st, 2011. The bill amended Maryland's misuse of electronic mail law to include all forms of electronic communication. It was a step forward, but a small one. There are still amendments needed, and they shall come in time.

I was one voice among many who came to testify that day. But I was the only victim of online harassment and revenge porn. And while it was difficult to reveal the true nature of the crime to a crowded room, it was the first step on the road I now travel as a victim advocate.

I have since aligned myself with a coalition of powerful women who share my dedication to seeing legislation that makes revenge porn a crime passed in all 50 states. We are advocates, activists and legal researchers. As a result of my continued involvement with this issue, in September 2013, a representative from Delegate Jon Cardin's office contacted me via the End Revenge Porn website where I am listed as the Maryland legislative coordinator.

I was invited to provide input and testify in support of a new revenge porn bill that was being drafted and that Del Cardin planned to introduce into the 2014 legislative session. I still face some of the fears I did the day I first brought my case to law enforcement, but I have embraced my role as the voice for those who have not yet found their voices. And I will speak up.

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