Noelle Martin
463,245 views • 11:46

[This talk contains graphic language and descriptions of sexual abuse]

Can I get a show of hands who here has ever Googled themselves? I have. But what started off as momentary curiosity very quickly turned into an almost five-year horrific battle that almost ruined my life. I Google Images reverse-searched myself: a function of Google that allows you to upload an image and it shows you where it is on the internet. This is me at 17 years old. An innocent selfie I took before a party.

Now, before I continue, I must point out that what I'm about to talk about is very confronting and graphic. But there's no way out. This is a very confronting issue.

In a split second, my screen was flooded with that image and dozens more images of me that had been stolen from my social media, on links connected to porn sites. On these sites, nameless, faceless sexual predators had published highly explicit sexual commentary about me and what they'd like to do to me. "Cover her face and we'd fuck her body," one person wrote. They also published identifying information about me: where I lived, what I studied, who I was.

But things got worse. I soon discovered that these sexual predators had doctored or photoshopped my face onto the bodies of naked adult actresses engaged in sexual intercourse, on solo shots of me being ejaculated on by two men. Sperm was edited onto my face. I was edited onto the cover of a porn DVD. Perpetrators had edited my images to give the effect that my blouse was transparent or see-through, so you could see my nipples. Perpetrators ejaculated on images of me, took photos of their sperm and penises on these images and posted them onto porn sites. "Cum on printed pigs," is what they call it.

Now, you might be wondering, what sorts of images I posted on social media. This is me, at around 19 at the Claremont Hotel, just a few suburbs away. And they superimposed that face into this. And things got worse. Nothing was off limits for these predators. They even posted an image with my little sister on these sites too.

Now, you might be thinking, "Well, you do dress provocatively, even a little sexually suggestive, attention seeking maybe." But just because a woman's body gets attention, doesn't mean she's attention-seeking. And what is provocative anyway, what is sexually suggestive? In some parts of the world, showing your ankles is promiscuous, is provocative. It's just like, no matter what a woman wears, it's always perceived as more sexual than it is. For me, I just wanted to feel pretty and confident. What's so wrong with that?

Now, you might be thinking, "Well, can't you just set your social media on private?" Well, these perpetrators were calculated. They befriended my friends on social media under fake profiles, they followed the public galleries of the events and places I regularly visited.

But why? Why should one have to retreat and hide out of fear that something like this could happen? What I post and what I wear isn't an invitation to violate and abuse me. The only person that should be changing their behavior is the perpetrators.

(Applause)

Now, you might be thinking, why me? Well, I'm just one of the thousands upon thousands of ordinary women who are being preyed upon in these mass-scale, horrific online cultures, websites and threads that are dedicated to sexually exploiting and doctoring ordinary images of women into porn. As I speak, there are women who are being preyed upon, and they don't even know it.

In the beginning, I tried seeking help. I went to police, I contacted government agencies, I even tried to hire a private investigator, but they were too expensive. There was nothing that they could do. I mean, what could you do when the sites are hosted overseas and the perpetrators are from overseas? I was told I had to contact the sites one by one, notifying the webmasters to get everything deleted. And so as you can imagine, in complete and utter fear and pain, I did.

I contacted the webmasters, requesting that they delete the material shared without consent. And I had some successes, but I also had some major setbacks. The more I fought, the more sites I would discover, and with time, the more my images were being seen and shared in the tens of thousands. I had one webmaster respond to me saying he'll only delete the site if I sent him nude photos of myself within 24 hours.

And this went on for years, fighting against these dodgy, disgusting sites. But I was fighting a losing battle. And I couldn't continue this any longer for my own mental health. But what could I do?

Maybe, I thought, if I spoke out, I could reclaim my name, and I could rewrite my narrative on my own terms. Maybe if I spoke out, I could raise awareness about this. Maybe I could even try to change the law. And so I did.

(Applause)

I spoke out publicly late last year and news of my story reverberated around the world. But this was the response. "She's a fat, ugly slut, she's a whore." "She's an attention-seeking piece of trash." "Feel flattered, baby, it's a compliment." I was victim-blamed and slut-shamed and told I was deserving of what happened to me. And quite frankly, that was more difficult for me to endure than my actual experiences of image-based abuse.

But I couldn’t let this criticism defeat me. I knew what the perpetrators had done was wrong, and I knew what they were doing to others was wrong. And so I petitioned. I sent out impassioned pleas for support. But it didn't work. I think I got like 330 signatures. And that was really disheartening.

But I then contacted my state and federal MPs. And I was referred to the New South Wales Attorney General's department, who were already in the process of drafting new laws to criminalize the nonconsensual distribution of intimate images. Image-based sexual abuse. Some of you might know it as revenge porn. And soon I became a spokesperson, a public face for the new laws. But I must point out, I do not in any way, shape or form want to take credit for this change in the law. This is on the backs of cybersafety experts, of researchers, of the Attorney General's department, of so many people who have fought for years. New South Wales was the first state in all the world to specifically include a provision on altering images. Something that happened to me, something you certainly don't hear about very often. And now ACT has also criminalized this, also with a provision on altered images. And next year, WA is introducing legislation and hopefully, they introduce a provision on altered images and I urge every state and every country in this world to follow suit, because right now, there's no justice for people like me.

Despite it all, despite the hate and despite the criticism, despite the fact that I'm never going to get justice, because my experiences happened before this movement of law reform, speaking out was the best thing I've ever done, because I know for a fact that it has helped people. And I just want to live in a world where, regardless of what I wear or what I post, that I'm still worthy of being treated with dignity and respect. Respect. Now, that's an idea worth sharing.

(Applause)

Thank you.

(Applause)