If the person who violated your privacy is a current or former intimate partner, a domestic violence advocacy agency may be able to help. If the harassment or coercion was sexual in nature, you may want to seek services from a sexual assault advocacy program. Programs often offer both domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy. Victim advocacy services are generally free and confidential. Advocacy programs can assist with safety planning, practical and emotional support, legal advocacy, and many other resources. Advocates can connect survivors of online harassment with knowledgeable therapists, attorneys, and law enforcement. They can provide support through court proceedings, help to validate and address the fear and frustration that the violation of privacy promotes, inform survivors of their rights, and help them to feel less alone and helpless. Online harassment may accompany intimate partner violence, sexual assault or coercion, or stalking; advocacy agencies are well positioned to offer a range of services that can address these issues. You can find a local domestic violence agency by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or www.thehotline.org, and a local sexual assault program by calling RAINN at 1-800-656-HOPE or www.rainn.org.
How Do I Get Help for What I'm Feeling
Taking active, practical steps to address the problem can help. Consulting with an attorney or law enforcement officers is important if someone has threatened you. A domestic violence advocate can also help you with safety planning if you are worried about a current or former partner hurting you, and a sexual assault advocate can work on safety planning if the threat is sexual in nature, no matter who is threatening you. It’s also important to see what practical and legal steps you can take to combat the invasion of your privacy. Although a formal complaint process may increase your feelings of stress while it is ongoing, this kind of active coping with the situation helps some people feel better more quickly. Addressing your feelings is important, too. Talking to people who care about you can help, as can talking to a counselor or therapist, or a domestic violence or sexual assault advocate. Joining a support group may also comfort you and allow you to feel safer. Keeping a journal where you put your feelings into words also works for some people. Doing things every day—especially small things—that make you feel good (for example, physician-approved exercise, experiencing natural beauty, gardening), are important, as is finding a way to relax. Many people also find religious or spiritual practices help them cope with these kinds of painful experiences. Try not to rely on drugs, alcohol, or caffeine, as these substances can make things worse.
Emotional reactions might range from mild to very strong, depending upon what has happened. Some of the reactions a person who has had their privacy invaded may have include the following (please note that a person may experience none, some or many of these feelings).
- Anxiety and fear
- Feeling a lack of safety
- Intrusive, upsetting thoughts or memories
- Loss of memory (such as having difficulty remembering exact details)
- Feeling detached or estranged from people
- Feelings of intense distress
- Physical reactions (pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)
- Sleep difficulties
- Difficulty concentrating
- Guilt, shame, or self-blame
- Feelings of mistrust or betrayal
- Depression and hopelessness
- Feeling alienated or alone
- Embarrassment and feelings of exposure
- Avoidance of people, events, or situations
If you have reason to fear that the person who has posted or has threatened to post your intimate images online poses a threat to your physical safety, then you can seek to obtain a restraining order on that person or a civil harassment protection order. In California, if the person threatening you is your current or former lover, you can request a domestic violence restraining order. A domestic violence advocate can assist you with safety planning if you are afraid of a current or former partner, or a sexual assault program can help with safety planning if the harassment or coercion is sexual in nature (regardless of who is threatening you). If you do not have a current or former romantic relationship with the person, however, then you should seek a civil harassment protection order. These orders may prohibit the person threatening you from coming within a certain distance of your person, home, and/or work place. Depending on the specific rules of the restraining order, the police may be able to arrest the person if he or she violates the order.