Tyra was 17 when she received a phone call from her best friend telling her that her nude photographs had been leaked all over the internet. She felt her whole world come undone in a matter of seconds.
What was meant to be a private exchange between her and someone she trusted was now being shared amongst hundreds of strangers online.
She pleaded with her ex-boyfriend to take them down but by then it was too late – Tyra had become a victim of revenge pornography.
With the recent controversy surrounding the online forum where men were found to be sharing sexually explicit images of Australian schoolgirls without their consent, it’s clear that Tyra’s experience is not uncommon.
“It was the lowest point of my life,” says Tyra. “I didn’t know how to process what was happening and I just broke down.”
Now 21, Tyra says her ex-boyfriend uploaded the photos to blogging site Tumblr when their relationship turned sour.
“I never saw him as the type of person who would do that … I trusted him more than anyone.”
When the photos were leaked, Tyra removed herself from all social media platforms hoping it would help the situation.
“I was so embarrassed. I didn’t want to leave the house. I pretended to be sick so I wouldn’t have to go to school that week.”
Katie Acheson, CEO of Youth Action, says a large part of the problem is that sexual education programs have not yet caught up to the digital age.
“Visualisations of sexuality have been a part of our society forever. We drew on caves, we painted pictures, we’ve always utilised our world and the technology we have to help express ourselves.
“The idea that young people aren’t going to use phones or technology to express their sexual development is ridiculous.”
The most recent study conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology revealed that 50 per cent of respondents aged 16 to 18 had sent a sexually explicit image of themselves to someone else.
“We already know that it’s happening,” says Acheson. “The question is how do we make sure that young people have all the information they need to keep themselves safe?”
Acheson defines the overall response to the matter as a clear example of the generational gap within society.
“The older generation doesn’t understand how the younger generation are expressing their healthy sexual development.”
For young people like Tyra, who attended a private Christian college, this is all too relatable.
“We never really had sex ed in school. It was more like an abstinence program … The teachers made us sign a yellow slip at the end which was a contract to God promising to stay pure until marriage.
“It was just funny because a lot of us were already sexually active at that age. It would have been a lot better if they actually showed us how to stay safe.”
These sexual education programs are what Acheson determines to be the underlying issue.
“We know that the abstinence message doesn’t work across the board. A combination of information, advice and support is what does. We need to include the virtual world into that.”
This support is what Tyra says could have helped her during the time she describes as the loneliest she’s ever felt.
“I didn’t know who to speak to because at that point I couldn’t really confide in anyone. I felt like an idiot … I felt like it was my fault.”
Acheson underlines the importance of support for anyone faced with a similar situation.
“Talk to somebody who can help you think through this. Don’t stop until you get somebody that listens to you … Your right to privacy and your personal intimate imagery is yours and should never be used against you.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual assault or exploitation, you can contact 1800 RESPECT for support.