Taking Back the Internet, One Image at a Time

By John Stran

Katelyn Bowden, founder of BADASS Army, presented her Take Back the Internet speech in the Ohio Room of Kilcawley Center on April 18.   

BADASS, Battling Against Demeaning and Abusive Selfie Sharing, is a nonprofit organization that aims to combat issues related to revenge pornography and provide advocacy and support for victims of such image abuse.

As Bowden spoke, the projector screen behind her briefly read, “The internet is forever.” She wanted students who attended to understand even if they think an image is erased, they may want to check again.  

Nicole Kent-Strollo, director of student outreach and support at Youngstown State University, said she met Bowden about a year ago and has been excited for Bowden to tell her personal story to faculty and staff, as well as give her insight on such a timely topic.

Bowden, a YSU alumna, was a victim of nonconsensual image sharing when explicit images of her appeared online.

A friend was the one who told her about the images. Bowden received the link to the website, and after scrolling through the website found images she shared with an ex-partner.   

“I never in a million years thought he would share them, and I was right,” Bowden said. “It was an acquaintance of mine who, after following my ex to a bar and waiting for him to get drunk, took his phone just to get the pictures.”

This former friend admitted to doing this to Bowden through text message. She thought she could tell authorities of the invasive crime that happened, and they would then would have to take action.

According to Bowden, the authorities told her the only crime that occurred was the man stealing her ex-boyfriend’s phone.

“I was so angry because a cellphone had more rights than I did as a human being,” she said

Photo by John Stran/The Jambar

Kate Venable, attorney and member of BADASS, said sharing someone else’s photo online is comparable to taking that picture and putting it up on a billboard.

According to Bowden and Venable, the only way a person is allowed to share another’s explicit photos is if they took the photo themself.  

What came from Bowden’s frustration was the forming of BADASS and the passing of a bill that criminalizes image abuse in Ohio in 2018.

The punishment for sharing another person’s explicit photos without their consent varies from state to state. Bowden feels after the third offense, the punishment should be equal to a low felony offense with the possibility of being labeled a sex offender.   

Though she preached on the permeability of a leaked photo, Bowden condones safe sexting practices and had guidelines on how to do just that.

“I am not going to tell you to not share photos because everyone’s body is beautiful, and it is empowering,” she said. “Your body is not something to be ashamed of, but also if you don’t feel comfortable sharing photos then don’t.”

Her first tip is to only share photos with someone you trust and not with someone who is pressuring you to do so.

Next is to state specifically through text message that you do not want these photos shared. If an issue does occur where photos are leaked, this will increase your probability of winning in a court of law drastically. Defying the wishes stated in the message proves their intent to harm.

Bowden’s final tip for safely sending images is to ensure the person on the receiving end is in an environment suitable to receive the photos instead of being around family or friends when the photo is sent.